Amid an unprecedented combined threat from online retail and Covid-19, Rebecca Redford investigates the human cost of the crisis on the high street.
Fashion retail on the high street has been struggling for a many years, as the number of people shopping online has had a detrimental impact. This problem has only excelled due to the forced closures of shops within the UK in attempt to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
It is fair to say non- essential retail has faced it’s most turbulent 12 months to date, in fact that could even be considered an understatement.
With the recent closure of a firm as large as Arcadia it sent shockwaves through the retail industry with 13,000 more people now joining 188,685 people who have already lost their retail job during the pandemic. Companies are closing their doors, and shutting their shops but this is only half of the problem, where do all their employees go? What is next for them?
Lorraine Brennan, an employee of the Arcadia group for 12 years, shares her dismay that the company has had to close its shops. She said: “I think it has been a great company to be a part of it is a shock for everyone and not just for the people that worked there but the fact Topshop and Topman aren’t going to be reopening again after lockdown is just crazy.”
Brennan believed a lot could have been done in order to prevent the collapsing of the Arcadia group, she said: “I would say from an online point of view we’ve not been there and not been ready for this in terms of the offer we do from an omnichannel.
“The website also wasn’t there either, we did far too many online offers that we didn’t do in store and that really annoyed quite a lot of customers.
“From a store point of view, price and strategy is something we have struggled with for the past few years, we tried to be maybe more of a Zara but in actual fact the customer we had was shopping in Miss Guided or Boohoo.
“We probably spent too much for too long and we could have maybe rained that in and restructured sooner than we did. I think if we could have saved on the cost then we could have been ready for the pandemic more than we actually were.”
When asked about how she feels about the viability of a career in high street retail in the future Brennan said: “I do believe if things go well and trade is the way they’re expecting I think there will be a surge and we would need to recruit a lot and I think lots of retailers will probably air on the side of caution and probably take on a lot of temp positions, so if you’re just sort of out of university and looking for part time roles, I think there will be lots of temporary positions which will lead to something more permanent. I just think it will take a lot of time to recover.”
Although having not secured a job yet, Brennan has been in talks with many other retailers and is remaining optimistic about future job opportunities that the retail sector has in store.
Having faced a series of three lockdowns it is no surprise the retail sector is in tatters with more than 14,000 retail shops closing their doors permanently between February 2020 and March 2021.
Sharing her views, Catherine Erdly, a retail analyst was not surprised when she found out that Arcadia group had folded.
She said: “I think that Arcadia had been struggling for a while, especially when you consider how toxic Phillip Greens reputation had become and that is coupled with the fact that a growing number of customers want to shop consciously so the two things don’t really go well together.
“The Arcadia group had a huge store base, a lot of which needed updating and refurbishing which is very costly and at the same time they were no longer being seen as relevant to fashion lovers as they were previously so coupled with the pandemic it’s not really surprising that they collapsed.”
When discussing the current state of fashion retail on the high street Erdly said: “I think that we are going to be seeing fewer jobs in high street fashion if I’m totally honest.
“I think that we will see a reduction in numbers overall in the retail industry we will also see an increase for example of people working in fulfilment and logistics because as people shop less in physical stores and more online then the workforce will shift between the two.
“I don’t necessarily know if there will be fewer people overall, but I definitely think there will be fewer jobs on the shop floor.”
Although there has been a long list of retailers closing their shop doors over the last year one in particular has managed to successfully bridge the gap between their presence online and their position on the high street. END.‘s Creative Project Manager, Amy Hutchins, reveals how END. are effectively supporting the two.
Discussing this she said: “A lot of people still shop in the END. store for the experience. Our online presence is an extension of our stores and vice versa.
“A lot of work goes into make sure people aren’t just shopping but they are going ‘to END.’ when an END. collaboration or an elevated release rolls out, we want to make sure that if a customer goes to the store, they will see the same amount of creativity and product elevation as they will online.”
“We put a lot of work into our store activations and make sure that our online product roll outs are echoed in store.
“We have a Brand Team dedicated to making sure that all elevated launches are cohesive between the store and website.
“We get the majority of our sales online, but our stores are still extremely important.”