Is the delay of lockdown restrictions lifting having a negative effect on the high street?

Whilst we all knew that the June 21st ‘Freedom Day’ promises were never guaranteed, the nation’s mood was definitely more sombre when it didn’t go through. However, in a time where we’ve finally been able to once again enjoy ourselves and encouraged to get out and spend, has the bad news dampened our spirits as well as our urge to spend? The eyes are on the high street with the hope of no more tragedies after the loss of Debenhams, Topshop and other favourites. 

Ultimately, numbers are up, especially year on year as this time in 2020 we were still in lockdown. With millennials and Gen Z, social media has had its own impact too, with videos on Tik Tok and Instagram reels where people showcase their hauls also encouraging people to brighten up their wardrobes. When it comes to the older generation, an increase of social events has had people keen to curate the perfect outfit. 

Although, with plenty of time to themselves, the shopper has also become savvier, searching for the right deal and averse to paying full price for product. Whilst discount has had benefits for the consumer, the continued promise of more for less has put retailers in a position where they’re constantly under pressure to do so, lessening their margins overall.

They’re also facing an emptier high street space. Store vacancies are now at an average of 14%, up 1% from the year before – and are expected to rise even further. With these being department stores, the empty spots don’t provide the most inspiring aesthetic, too. On the flip side, a halting of the return to the high street, in particular busy cities like Manchester, London and Birmingham, is discouraging the more cautious from returning to an overpopulated space. Plus, as Covid cases continue to rise and holidays are put in jeopardy will this make people more reluctant to socialise once more, halting the thirst to purchase?

One other thing to consider is public unrest. Whilst some individuals are remaining cautious, others are tired of living in a world under restrictions. With the anti-lockdown protest in central London over the weekend attracting thousands of people, the sense of disparity also having its own effect. Whilst this is a short-term problem, could the peoples anger alongside the empty buildings make people want to avoid visiting their local centres overall?

However, there are plans to turn these empty stores into apartment buildings and homes instead. Town and city centre spaces are always desirable, and more importantly bring people back into the space. The new hybrid world of ecommerce vs physical stores continues to progress, so as the retail-scape evolves, the plans for our city centres does too. One thing is for sure, we continue to live in a world of uncertainty. Yet, more positively it can be considered as a time for change. Whilst none of us know exactly what things are going to look like, one thing that’s guaranteed is that it’s going to be more accessible, with the consumer ultimately at heart.