2019: Casualties, Newcomers and the Year Retail Started Finding its ‘Voice’

Article by Olivia Robinson | 12th December 2019

It’s no understatement to say that 2019 has been something of an up and down year for UK high streets with successes and failures pointing to an uneven, unpredictable market landscape.

We’ve seen scaling back of some of big high street names aimed at stopping the rot caused by hard-to-predict commercial pressures. We’ve also witnessed a spate of permanent store closures and close shaves with the likes of Mothercare, Thomas Cook, Jack Wills, Clintons, Jessops and even the once mighty and iconic Debenhams all facing woes of one kind or another.

As we’ll see, however, newcomers are moving in to fill the void with fashion retailers representing the most closures, but also the most store openings. The market is clearly still there—what has changed are consumer habits and expectations.

Retailers simply need to figure out the best models of operation that connect with and fulfil the needs of modern shoppers in order to tap into the demand in the right ways—opportunity capture, to ward off creeping inefficiency that can often go undetected until it’s too late, will be critical as we move into 2020.

Easy come, easy go—but it’s not all bad news

So reckon professional services network, Price Waterhouse Cooper…

“The first half of 2019 saw a net decline of 1,234 chain stores on Britain’s top 500 high streets”…With… “an average of 16 stores a day closed, as restructurings and the online migration of shopping and services continue to hit the high street”.

Here’s how UK store closures and openings break down by industry from January to June.

Retail store closures Jan – June 2019

Industry Store Closures (Jan – June)
Fashion 262
Pubs & Bars 167
Restaurants 153
Estate agents 143
Charity shops 139
Banks & Financial Services 116
Food to Go 112
Vaping & Tobacco 89
Electricals shops 89
Employment agencies 88


Retail store openings Jan – June 2019

Industry Store Openings (Jan-Jun 2019)
Fashion 144
Charity 101
Food to Go 76
Takeaways 76
Pubs & Bars 71
Vaping & Tobacco 69
Convenience Stores 62
Sports & Health Clubs 54
Restaurants 50
Employment Agencies 48

Source: Local Data Company: Store Closures Hit Record Levels

Not a pretty picture for the brands for who maintaining a healthy ‘real-world’ physical presence alongside online offerings is still relevant and necessary. The drivers of this shifting high street landscape have been spiralling business costs and most notably, changing consumer habits as more and more of us take to our screens, rather than the high street to find what we’re after.

Some brands can be said to have missed the boat in terms of anticipating and adapting early enough by taking the right actions to future-proof operations while ensuring to keep running costs and overheads as lean as possible to protect margins.

Those that have made it to Christmas with profits, reputation and footfall intact should heed the warnings of the once-mighty, now fallen, by developing strategies to ensure the molehill operational-pinch points don’t grow into mission-critical ops-pain mountains.

As we have seen in 2019—this can happen almost overnight with multiple shock announcements about the dire fates of seemingly immovable brands.

Theft & Loss

In February we looked back at a 2018 retail landscape that suffered 950,000 instances of theft—up significantly from 575,000 in 2017.

In the coming weeks we’ll be picking apart the scale and impact of UK retail theft and losses for 2019. No spoilers, but let’s say there’s no reverse or letup in the upward trend as organised retail crime, staff-theft and good ol’ regular customer theft continues to squeeze margins and give retailers cause for concern.

You can tune into the context of the theft & loss issue over the past couple of years via the full post: How Much Will Theft Cost Retailers in 2019

And you can insert your email on the right to be notified of the upcoming piece breaking down the issue of theft in fashion retail, due for publication in January.

2020 Vision

In terms of retail trends, 2020 is set to continue the retail revolution of 2019 with more and more retailers realising the virtues of creating new experiences for customers, and using tech to help deliver those experiences while also leveraging tech to work toward achieving operational excellence.

Expect retailers to get even hotter on developing ‘customer contact points’ as a means of developing the customer experience toward stronger personalisation and efficiency.

Here’s a piece from way back in April on—The Importance of Customer Contact Points in Retail

In 2019, VoCoVo made giant steps toward revolutionising how major UK supermarkets and other much loved big-name retailers approach operational efficiency using ‘voice-led’ solutions to tackle age-old pinch points.

As a result of our efforts, clients have fed back encouraging anecdotal and statistical evidence confirming the game-changing impact the right ‘efficiency tech’ can have on customer experience, theft and loss, team morale, labour turnover and ultimately, revenue.

As we feel our way into a 2020 that promises more thrills and spills, we’re gearing up to get the attentions of the big names we know and love that could benefit from the kinds of ‘connected’ incentives and operational enhancements retailers will be wise to look at to ensure a bright future for the brands, old and new, that contribute so much to our economy and lifestyles.

Connect with me on LinkedIn for a consultation on how we can tailor our approach to mould with specific circumstances and pinch-points.

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