More than any other, the retail sector has suffered from the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. The casualty list seems never ending and the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.
The job losses in retail began before the coronavirus epidemic took a grip back in February. Hard-pressed retailers were already trying to tackle rising costs, squeezed profit margins, increased competition and the transition to on-line shopping. Many famous names, including Debenhams, Oasis and Warehouse, TM Lewin, Bonmarche and Laure Ashley bit the dust. Other casualties are likely to follow in 2021.
Some retail industry experts warn this perfect storm could spell the end of the high street as we know it. An estimated 300,000 jobs have already gone. That doesn’t include ancillary workers connected with retail, such as suppliers and service companies, and local cafes and coffee shops that depend on their support.
The writing was clearly on the wall back in June, when Intu, the UK’s biggest retail shopping centre landlord, owner of Lakeside Thurrock, Manchester’s Arndale, and the Metrocentre, went to the wall.
It’s only a couple of years since I interviewed the boss of Intu and expressed my concern about the number of struggling retailers shutting-up shop in the UK. He told me Intu was thriving and had nothing to fear. Clearly that wasn’t the case.
But it not just the big named retailers that are struggling. Vast numbers of small retailers and family run businesses are fighting to survive. Many of them haven’t been in operation long enough to qualify for Government support. The high street will be the loser in the long-run. Who wants to visit a shopping centre that’s boarded-up, or filled with charity shops. The knock-on will be to kill off local economies.
This week, Chancellor Rishi Sunak will deliver his long awaited financial statement. He can either continue to fret about the cost of combating the pandemic, or he can launch plans to support small businesses and give the economy a shot in the arm.
This should be the busiest time of the year in retail, but this Christmas will be unlike anything we’ve encountered before. It is up to the Chancellor to put a much needed smile on the face of shopkeepers and consumers alike.