Updated: Sep 14, 2022
The beleaguered High Street was struggling well before COVID-19 and the pandemic.
We became used to seeing the ugly images of shuttered shops and empty pavements as retail leaders struggled to provide a response to the decline.
Customers are emotional about seeing their High Streets turned into ghost towns. They miss the social and community interactions and relationships built over the years. So how are two major retail giants moving forward post-lockdown?
John Lewis is not giving up on physical premises but is looking to capitalise on the shift to remote working. They plan to roll out smaller, service-orientated outlets with the integration of its brand into Waitrose stores.
Local shops will be complemented by destination stores in city centres offering new products, food and drink and services customers cannot access online.
Surprisingly, the supermarket’s eCommerce site had grown fourfold since February 2020, taking it to around 240,000 orders a week, and now represents a £1bn sales business.
The organisation is looking to expand its click-and-collect network extending to more Waitrose stores and local collection points with third parties, such as the Co-op.
This significant shift to online, accelerated by the pandemic, represents big changes for the business compared to 2019. Whereas prior to the pandemic John Lewis sales were split 58% in-store, 42% online, this has flipped to 75% online, 25% in-store.
Likewise, while pre-Covid 95% of Waitrose sales were made in-store, now on average 14% of sales come from eCommerce.
Founded in 1884, M&S, in 1998, became the first UK retailer to make a pre-tax profit of more than £1bn. Today it’s another story.
Last year the company reported a loss for the first time. This has resulted in the company closing a number of stores and is planning to drastically reduce the size of its flagship store on London’s Oxford Street.
The performance of its clothing ranges has been faltering for years. Now M&S clothing is following the route taken by M&S Food in 2009 by admitting ranges from other brands, in a move to “turbocharge” online sales.
M&S will sell products from a host of other labels, with Hobbs, Jack & Jones, Joules, Phase Eight, Seasalt Cornwall, Selected Homme, Selected Femme, Sloggi, Sosandar, Triumph, White Stuff and Y.A.S.
M&S has ploughed its own furrow for a long time and became an exemplar of the globally successful UK company by doing so. It is hard to see the future of M&S acting as a stockist of lots of products whilst struggling to let the retailers’ own products still stand out and retain its brand value.
At the end of the day, yes, everyone wants experience fuelled shopping which the likes of Nike and AmazonGo provide. But let’s not forget that the High Street still provides a great opportunity to create and support micro and small businesses.
Why? The low barriers to entry into retailing provide an excellent opportunity for self-employment and creating local jobs. And that’s not all.
They are generally lean and able to adapt to changing local circumstances. Its diverse, and somewhat favourable environment acts as a stepping stone for newly arrived entrepreneurial migrants and women to flourish.
With innovation and thoughtful planning, the High Street will continue to be the centre of consumer, commercial and communal life, a place of work and a place of leisure. What more can we ask for?