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EDITORIAL As more shops – now including Thorntons – close, how is the balance shifting in retail?

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In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter, we’re reporting in a week in which, at first glance, shopping’s centre of gravity appears to be shifting further away from shops in general. 

Nearly 10,000 chain stores closed permanently – net of openings – in 2020, according to new research from PwC and The Local Data Company, at a time when Covid-19 lockdowns forced many shops to pull their shutters down temporarily and more people started to work from home.

That’s not including chocolate specialist Thorntons, which yesterday said it would consult on closing all of its 61 shops. It’s going to focus instead on selling online – through a website that has seen strong demand during the pandemic – and through wholesale relationships with grocers. 

At a time when the opportunity to buy in a shop has been reduced – and The Local Data Company suggests that only 17% of shops have classed as essential in lockdown – shoppers have instead been moving online – and to marketplaces. Zalando has today raised its ambitions as it says that it aims to have more than 10% of European fashion retail sales take place on its platform by 2025. That follows a 30% rise in GMV for the platform over the last year. 

That’s not to say the direction of travel is all in one direction. Screwfix said yesterday that it would open 50 new shops in the UK and Republic of Ireland this year.This may not be entirely down to it being an essential retailer or what it sells. It notes in its announcement that its success is closely linked to its decisions to bring digital into its shops in recent months, offering services including click and collect. 

And H&M says its first-quarter sales have fallen when its shops have had to close for recent lockdowns – despite rising online sales. This perhaps highlights the important role that shops still play in the balance between retail channels. 

ScS found an opportunity in the lockdown that caused all its shops to shut last March – it monitored how shoppers used its website when they could only order online. Now it has developed solutions that better meet its online shoppers’ needs, while noting that many of its ‘store’-based customers prefer to touch and feel a sofa for themselves before committing. Findings ways to make store and online work together is helping retailers as they work to boost their overall sales in lockdown – and will undoubtedly expand options for shoppers once stores are open again. 

In today’s guest comment, Jack Wearne of VE Global considers how retailers should approach a cookie-free future. 

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