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EDITORIAL How the high street needs to change in coming years – Sports Direct, M&S, New Look

In today’s InternetRetailing newsletter we’re reporting in the week that leading retailers went to Parliament to consider the plight of the high street – and what might be done to save them. In the view of Sports Direct chief executive Mike Ashley, many of the UK’s high streets are already dead or dying. He believes the answer lies in raising taxes on the turnover not only of pureplay retailers but also of multichannel traders. At the same time, landlords and councils must consider cutting rents and business rates for retailers who invest in their stores. 

Mike Ashley caught most of the headlines, but representatives of M&S, New Look and independent retailer Lakeland Leather were also at the committee hearings of the Housing, Communities and Local Government committee this week. We report on how they see retail evolving now in and in the future, from M&S as it looks to rebalance online with its stores, to New Look, as it focuses on  its customers and on what they want from its stores. 

The hearing came as the British Retail Consortium today reported that 33% of non-food retailing in November took place online. That sets a new record that has implications not only for how we shop at Black Friday but for how we shop around the year. The way that we buy at Christmas tends to throw wider shopping trends into relief, because it’s when peak volumes of goods are being sold that it’s easier to see how consumer behaviour is changing. 

There’s an interesting contrast to these figures in the results reported by Fortnum & Mason, as it benefits from appetites for luxury retailing. It sold to a record 125 countries in the year to 2018, while online sales grew by 21% and its overall profits by 26%. Notably, this is a retailer with few outlets – in highly selective locations – but a broad online coverage. How it represents the future of the high street will be interesting to watch in years to come. 

Finally, we look at what it is about the delivery promise that makes most difference to consumers, courtesy of MetaPack research.

These are all issues that Scott Clarke of Cognizant considers in his guest comment, where he looks at how digital disruption is affecting retail – and how retailers can respond. 

Image: InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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