Property Agency

A virtual ‘brand new’ high street

Julian Welch of Eddisons incorporating Barker Storey Matthews, who is its national retail and leisure agency lead, shares a view of the shape of the post-pandemic high street.

The plight of retail and hospitality business fortunes has never been far from financial commentators’ coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic for the past twelve months.

During this time, this crucial sector of the UK economy has been at the centre of a number of initiatives and announcements by, arguably, the ultimate financial commentator – the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Last summer’s ‘Eat out to help out’ scheme was very much associated with the Chancellor. Indeed, in his latest Budget statement earlier this month (March), there were measures positioned as designed to directly aid the retail and hospitality sectors in the coming months as they steer their businesses according to the roadmap of lockdown lifting. That the Budget measures announced were very much for the short and medium term is something on which we passed comment at the time of their announcement.

What we are forced to consider now is the future shape of our high streets and the place in them for retail, hospitality and leisure sector businesses.

These are matters investors and professionals in the field have been reviewing for the past two decades as the nation’s retail and recreational habits have been morphing.

There is a broad agreement – among professional and lay audiences, alike – that Covid-19 has merely served to hasten the process of the fundamental structural reform of retail and leisure businesses that the internet kickstarted in the 1990s.

Handily paraphrased as ‘clicks versus bricks’, retail ‘brands’ still retain their attraction.

During the past year, we’ve seen a number of brands being bought by online retailers. Topshop has been acquired by ASOS and Debenhams online has been purchased by boohoo. There have been – and will be – many, many more as businesses and consumers adjust to ‘the new normal’ way of shopping.

It’s the brands of those once mighty retail, high street giants that have been bought. It’s the clicks – their online functions and architecture – and not the bricks that attract modern shopping behemoths.

All of the upside of brand identity but none of the costs of operating a physical, high street presence is advantageous to online-only retailers.

The past year has pushed forward the market share of online retailers and hastened the decline of high street failures. Without the cost of property and other operational costs associated with a conventional ‘shop’, it’s the online retailers who have had the freedom to be fleet of foot and grab market share.

They are not going to cede the territory on which they have been encroaching for decades.

Where once shopping on the high street was a collective pastime and, for many, even a leisure pursuit in itself, for the past twelve months, it has been the opposite.

Shopping is now something a rising demographic is doing via devices in bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens or on-the-go to wherever. That looks set to stay.

There is deep uncertainty in the leisure and hospitality sector as to how we will approach venturing out post-pandemic, many for the first time in any meaningful way, to go to the pub, the cinema, a gig, a club, a restaurant and even a mini-break or a full-blown holiday.

Famed as a nation of shopkeepers, we were in the process of reinventing and adjusting to the way we do it but that pace of change has been turbo-charged by the pandemic and the land-grab of the online retailers.

The transmissible characteristic of a virus sees the nation’s innkeepers being forced to think about their place on the high street too.

What this means for property fortunes and the shape of the high street to come is a moot point.

But business – like nature – abhors a vacuum and fresh ideas about our high streets abound in property discussions.

Where those ideas will land and with what impact on the high street, remain to play out but challenging times are ahead for parties with property interests.

For more information about retail, food & beverage and leisure property prospects and opportunities, contact Julian Welch on 01733 897722.

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For any press queries, please contact:
Richard Jones, Eddisons incorporating Barker Storey Matthews, 01733 897722, [email protected]

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