The bustling pub gardens on the sunny first few days of reopening were an encouraging sight. Despite needing to wrap up in blankets, and drink for warming purposes more than anything else, the Great British public proved itself eager and willing to bring their business back to their beloved local.
This isn’t just great news for us all in terms of dusting off those social cobwebs, but also in terms of reenergising hospitality and boosting these small businesses that have had an unbelievably tough year. Seeing lots of job adverts in hospitality has been wonderful.
But it’s not an even picture. Whilst beer gardens saw us return at lightning speed, the same isn’t true for retail. We’re just not getting back in the swing of shopping in the way we used to. Without the footfall, retail jobs aren’t recovering and we stand to change the look of retail forever.
The changing picture for retail
Those of us who are used to welcoming the postie weighed down by online deliveries prior to Covid can be a bit blinkered. It’s easy to think that online shopping was the only way and no one was really a fan of the High Street anymore. However, this just isn’t borne out in the data.
In 2019, prior to Covid’s arrival, ecommerce in the UK accounted for just over 20% of all retail sales. So, whilst significant, it certainly wasn’t dominant. However, by January 2021, online sales accounted for 35.2% of all retail. Nearly half of us have, thanks to Covid restrictions, bought products online which we had never bought in this way before. And, unfortunately, many of us have no plans to change these newfound habits – especially wealthier shoppers.
The issue now, is that people just aren’t returning to bricks and mortar stores in the ways we had hoped. It’s believed that we’ve lost about 17,500 chain outlets alone. I did a video post about the demise of Debenhams only a few short months ago. And at the moment, it wouldn’t be surprising if lots more stores follow suit. There are predictions that we may soon see as many as 80,000 empty shops across the UK.
So, whilst the media fed you images of hellish Primark queues on day 1 of reopening, the reality is that we’re just not getting back out there.
And that’s a problem
For the individual, they will do what serves them best at the moment. However, it needs to be remembered that shutting up shop is considerably easier than reopening. It comes down to a case of use it or lose it.
However, the issue runs deeper. If we don’t support retail in our local communities then we remove an entire layer of jobs. And the loss of those jobs isn’t evenly distributed amongst the working population. It predominantly hits young people and the lower paid. The issue is that if we don’t take our money into our communities, it’s lost from our communities, and we’re all poorer for that.
So, it’s great that we’re spending. It’s great that we’ve got enough confidence to start letting go of our cash. But, we need to think a little more carefully about where to spend it, if we want to support local jobs and see our local community bounce back. When you make your next purchase, who is it that’s getting your money?