Let me start by being saying I am an eternal optimist when it comes to retail.
In spite of the increasing shift to online shopping I remain a firm believer that there is still a place for traditional bricks & mortar stores.
This is not to say that Retail does not need to evolve, but so long as it does it will offer something that online shopping cannot...notably a personal, consultative, immersive experience that is fun, engaging and memorable.
Does this mean that retailers can justify operating as many outlets as previously? Unlikely - some retail traffic has been lost forever to the Internet so we have to accept that the landscape has changed. Consumption patterns have changed too...what people spend money on today is not what they spent it on 20 years ago, much more is spent on experiences (food, concerts, entertainment) and there is also increased awareness of our responsibility to consume more consciously and sustainably, this means quality over quantity.
That being said the stores that exist will be even better than before - they have to epitomise all that is great about an in-person experience.
Where the landscape has to change to make retail viable is in the pricing structure of traditional retail property and the relationship between landlord, tenant and the government too. Covid has accelerated the need for a rapid reassessment of how in particular city centre property is valued and a new model needs to emerge that spreads the risk fairly between all parties.
In the case of London, there is an enormous disconnect between property value and potential revenue. Ever rising rents do not correlate with reduced footfall and expenditure. Rates, the bain of a retailer's existence, is an arbitrary tax on each and every location irrespective of sales or profitability.
A new model where the risk is shared between all interested parties has to be the way forward. Seeing the swathes of empty retail locations across London is a sad sight. Covid bears some of the blame but not all, the old model was broken long before Covid arrived.
There are retailers both existing and new who would love to open stores and start the process of creating Retail 2.0 - bringing life back to our cities as well as employment.
All of this is particularly poignant for us at the moment - we are about to close one of our London stores. After 10 years our lease has ended and without a restructuring of the rental cost, review of the rates payable as well as greater flexibility in the lease, the risk of continuing is simply too great. The deck is stacked one way only at the moment.
It's a shame as we would like to have another store and we know we have a viable retail business - but we just need a fair chance of being successful to make it worth our while to take the risk. I know we are not alone.
At least we have our store in Covent Garden...for now onwards and upwards!