High streets will evolve to meet Covid crisis, retail expert says

RETAIL will continue to play a vital role in the future of the UK’s high streets, despite the widespread redundancies and business closures that continue to be caused by the fall-out from the coronavirus.

But high streets will evolve to the extent retail will no longer be the dominant theme, with shops increasingly co-existing with offices, hospitality and leisure outlets, and other services.

This perspective is offered by Vivienne King, chief executive of retail property and placemaking specialist Revo, who will provide the keynote speech to a virtual event being held by The Herald, in association with law firm CMS, on Thursday September 17. The Future of Our High Street will examine the challenges created by the pandemic and also what policies can be put in place to ensure it can still have a vibrant future.

The event will feature contributions and a question and answer session with six panellists, each offering expertise, and different perspectives on the future of the high street. The panellists are Katie Nagy de Nagybaczon, co-head of UK consumer and retail at CMS; Sophie Shannon, associate director of NewRiver REIT; Dr Jackie Mulligan, founder and chief executive of ShopAppy.com; Alan Anthony, managing director of Threesixty Architecture; Miller Mathieson, managing director of CBRE for Scotland and Northern Ireland; and Phil Prentice, chief officer of Scotland’s Towns Partnership.

Asked for her views on the impact the pandemic, and how the high street will evolve, Ms King said: “Covid-19 has accelerated the e-commerce effect and placed huge strain on retailers operating from stores in our town centres as they have endured months of loss of turnover from trading. Our high streets were already facing challenges but Covid-19 has made these challenges that much greater.

“Our high streets are the economic heart of the towns and cities in the UK and intrinsic to the urban fabric that binds communities together, playing an unseen role in our happiness, well-being, and sense of security. The role they play goes far beyond the function of buying. High streets will adapt and may well compact but the broader purpose of retail means we will retain great retail locations and these will blend with other uses bringing us a mix of homes, workspace, services, leisure, hospitality as well as retail, all conveniently located side by side.”

Ms King believes that, despite the growing e-commerce trend, online shopping and traditional “bricks and mortar” can live in harmony, noting that the “future of retail is omni-channel”. She said: “Shops and online are not competitors, they are complementary in an ecosystem of buying in a modern age. The role of thriving physical retail will be to bring us something that cannot be replicated online – a sensory experience with face-to-face interaction.”

Ms King said she would support the introduction of an online sales tax to level the playing field between traditional shops and their online counterparts, and backs the UK Government’s pledge to review business rates in England. In Scotland, the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery has recommended the “targeted use of business rates” to help sectors recover from the current crisis.

Ms Nagy de Nagybaczon said: “The journey for high streets has not been easy over the decades and now with the pandemic they are faced with yet another transformation. As we reported in our recent publication, Taking Stock – the outlook for Consumer & Retail, the crisis is driving changes in consumer behaviour.”

“Resilience is key as towns and cities adapt to focus on what a high street fit for the future might be. Innovators, retailers, and policymakers all have a role to play in tackling these challenges and opportunities so the high street can diversify and regenerate.”

Readers can join the discussion by registering via the dedicated website – https://newsquestscotlandevents.com/events/future-of-our-high-street-2020/

The event will be held on Hopin, an online events platform for engaging virtual events that connect people around the globe. For more information contact Lyndsay Wilson, events director, by emailing Lyndsay.wilson@heraldandtimes.co.uk.