“The wake of the pandemic has sparked an evident transition within the retail sector as we witness stores as staples of the high street either closing for good, reopening with an enhanced focus on digital integration, or simply shifting their focus to their online presence.
“According to the CBI, British retailers have reported their strongest sales in over four years in June. Therefore, the news that US retailer Gap is due to close all of its 81 UK stores by September provides a conflicting outlook regarding the future of the high street. This is put under the spotlight further when the owners of Primark, Associated British Foods, recently announced sales surging since before the pandemic.
“As Gap prepares to close, retailers with a more dedicated physical proposition such as Primark, JD Sports and H&M are witnessing heightened consumer demand. The H&M Group has reported a rise in net sales of 75 per cent in the second quarter and has plans to re-open 100 new, innovative stores with a focus on omni-channel sales. This demonstrates the current divergence in the retail industry, with traditional stores leaving the high street while others are capitalising as restrictions ease.
“As we embark on a new hybrid retail era, the role of the physical store is evolving. One way retailers can avoid the fate of store closures is to make visiting stores exciting again and invest in emerging trends, such as digitalisation or personalisation of stores. For example, Levi’s launched a new concept store in London’s Soho district, while Sports Direct opened its new hybrid-concept store in the Oxford Street shopping district, aiming to provide shoppers with a unique, immersive experience.
“While Primark’s sales and consumer demands are testament that physical retail still holds, retailers must capitalise on new solutions that not only meet consumer demands, but further reinforce the relevance and importance of the high street. The implementation of digital concepts such as Artificial Intelligence or immersive experiences is a perfect way to do so.”