Image Source: Tony Webster
Chloe Shakesby

Business leaders warn retailers to "remain vigilant" as high streets reopen

Retailers and hospitality venues across the UK have reopened today as coronavirus restrictions lift.

The change in rules today (12 April) has meant that non-essential retailers, hairdressers, pubs and restaurants have been allowed to reopen their doors after being closed for the majority of the last year.

Experts and business leaders from across the country have commented on the changes.

Amanda Mesler, Cashflows

“With non-essential retail stores able to reopen, we expect to see consumers flocking back to high street, giving brick and mortar merchants the opportunity to compensate for reduced cashflow in Q1 of this year.

“That said, they must not neglect their online presence - even before the pandemic, research showed that 63 per cent of UK shopping experiences begin online.

“It has never been more important to be truly omnichannel, as this will be the single biggest internal factor impacting retailers’ success through the rest of 2021.”

Russ Mould, AJ Bell

“The presence of snow in parts of the country was a nasty surprise as retailers and leisure operators opened their doors for the first time in months.

“They will be hoping the white stuff doesn’t settle and that sunshine quickly brightens the public’s mood.

“Reports on social media would suggest that hairdressers and barbers needn’t worry as demand is sky-high.

“A lot of pubs have also seen strong bookings, which means all eyes are on the retail sector to see if people are happy to get back in the shops or whether they’ve become addicted to the online channel.

“The jury is still out judging by Monday’s early share price reactions. Primark owner Associated British Foods slipped 1.7 per cent, Games Workshop fell 2 per cent, WH Smith was down 1.8 per cent and JD Sports retreated 1.4 per cent, the latter despite big queues at its flagship store in London’s Oxford Street before its doors opened.

“While it is possible that we’ll see plenty of people venturing into the shops today, particularly as it provides an excuse to finally get out of the house, retailers need strong footfall to be sustained for more than just a few days otherwise they face more difficult times ahead.

“It seems inevitable that we haven’t seen the last of the retail sector casualties.”

Mark Conway, Flintfox

“As non-essential retail begins to open once again in the UK, retailers and distributors are faced with a huge unknown around consumer demand.

“Will in-store footfall spike again versus online commerce or is consumer behaviour altered forever? Strategic discounting and pricing strategy is likely to be front and centre to keep the high street alive.

“Intelligent price management and achieving margin accuracy is crucial.

“In a time when the stock variances are unknown, along with increased supplier rebates to manage, there has never been a more important time for global businesses to evaluate their existing software and avoid pressing on with legacy systems.”

David Hannah, Cornerstone Tax

“British businesses have been counting down the days – for months waiting for the 12 April so they can serve the public.

“Although we must all remain vigilant, this is an important milestone and a great joy to many of the small businesses I have spoken to.

“Stores we know and love have gone under and our high streets are empty of shoppers, but now the lockdown restrictions are easing and a vaccine rollout of historic proportions is under the way.

“All the research shows that there will be a myriad of resilient founders and entrepreneurs to support, new businesses to look out for, and a British public ready to back them all – particularly those local independents so important for our communities and our economy. This truly shows we are a nation of shopkeepers.”

David Jinks, ParcelHero

“The ‘Glorious Twelfth’ saw the start of the high street bargain-hunting season as many people returned to their favourite high street stores for the first time since early January.

“However, it was a different high street to the one they remember, with no Topshops, Burtons or Dorothy Perkins, and even several John Lewis stores permanently closed.

“Our recent research shows 46 per cent of consumers have no intention of spending as much in stores as they used to do pre-pandemic.

“Encouragingly, those retailers that have survived the cull reported positive results, with queues forming outside fashion stores, footwear outlets, etc.

“However, looking at ParcelHero’s numbers for the morning, there was no noticeable falling-back in online retail bookings either: at 11am online, ParcelHero’s regular retail users were reporting sales 68 per cent up on the same period last year and just -3 per cent down on average recent Mondays.

“It’s great we can finally see new clothes “in the flesh” before we buy, get a haircut and even brave the weather for an (extra) chilly beer in pub gardens.

“We should remember the lesson of the end of the first lockdown, however. After an initial burst of enthusiasm and early-morning queues to get into our favourite stores last June, things fizzled out after a few days.

“We’re confident the high street will claw back some of its lost trade, but the success of physical stores is down to how well they blend their in-store and online sales.

“There are some big wins to be had, for example, in areas such as Click & Collect and BOPUS (buy online, pick up in store) that blend the convenience and security of buying online with driving footfall into stores.

“Only retailers that embrace their websites as their most important shop windows and ensure their online services match the standards of their in-store experiences will survive.”

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