Salford Business School 20.03.20

Coronavirus: Can the High Street survive?

Dr Gordon Fletcher, retail expert from the University of Salford Business School, comments as several big High Street names signal distress over coronavirus.

“The high street has taken a hammering this week and is likely to look very different by the end of the summer, but if companies adapt there could be hope.  Paddy Power, Ladbrokes and William Hill and other betting companies, who are now taking a double hit. With the cancellation of large sporting events there are fewer opportunities for betting. However, even if there are opportunities to bet (and there are) the betting shops themselves are not seeing their normal foot traffic. While there are online offerings for each of the companies, this change will affect jobs and ultimately the look and feel of many high streets across the UK.

“More indirectly a national second-hand car dealership and three fashion retailers have also flagged up the risk brought by the coronavirus and the necessary response. Evans Halshaw, Next, Burberry and Joules have all struggled in a difficult high street climate and a highly competitive ecommerce world. The lack of high street footfall is now making their trading struggles more acute and brought this to bear more rapidly. Statements from the fashion companies suggests there will be an acceleration of movement to online retail over the next few months. It is inevitable that the high street will look very different by the end of Summer - and initially at least it will not be a good look.

“Yet in among this negative outlet there are businesses already responding in new ways to the crisis to ensure their continuity. Canlis, an upmarket restaurant in Seattle, has responded to enforce closure by moving away from dine-in options to drive-through, popup and home delivery models more familiar in the low-end takeaway market.

“The underlying message from all of these businesses is that a prolonged period of social distancing is going to bring changes - some permanent - in the ways that we do all forms of commercial and social activities. Inevitably, this will involve more ecommerce, more online but as the fog of the medical crisis clears and the exhaust fumes from commuters reappears innovative thinking will also bring new opportunities and ideas to the high street and elsewhere."

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