The impact of COVID-19 and the subsequent recession is clear to see while walking through any high street in the UK. With shops being forced to close for several months during lockdown and consumer confidence at a low, many retail units have been unable to reopen at all and the number of empty shops has reached a six year high.
While essential shops such as supermarkets saw a dramatic increase in demand, independent retailers have struggled to compete with online giants throughout the pandemic. The vital importance of having an online presence has never been clearer. Despite being one of the biggest retailers on the high street, Primark reported zero sales during lockdown because they don’t do ecommerce so were unable to sell any products. In contrast, Amazon doubled its profits during the second quarter, the most profitable in its history.
In July, 11% of retail units were permanently closed, compared to 9.8% in January 2020. London has been worst affected, with an increase of nearly two thirds. City centres have seen a vast drop in footfall as office staff have been working from home and tourists unable to fly. With workplace flexibility becoming the new normal, we may not see numbers return to previous levels anytime soon. There has been much debate around the impact of closed offices on city centre cafes and coffee shops, which rely heavily on lunchtime trade. Yet, it’s possible that their more rural counterparts will benefit from the shift as consumers shop closer to home.