Manchester Retail Sector

Friday, 22nd April 2022

Blog by Jennifer Smith – Forbes Solicitors

Over the past 20 months, the Manchester retail sector has seen the closure of retail stores such as Debenhams and those in the Arcadia Group, Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge to name a few. Debenhams, a bustling department store that for decades stood proud at the top of Market Street, is now desolate and vacant.

The combined impact of Brexit and Covid-19 has had a significant impact on store closures on the high street. Centre for Cities 2022, reports that the share of high street services vacant post June 2021 in Manchester, is at 15%. It has been reported that although pubs and restaurants on the high street were adversely affected by the pandemic, high street fashion stores were the worst affected, with Manchester losing approximately 41 weeks’ worth of sales, accounting for some of the greatest potential sales lost in the country.

What are the potential reasons for these closures?

The ease of e-commerce

It is no secret that the “death of the high street” has been anticipated for some time, with the rise of the convenience of online shopping. However, Brexit and lockdowns due to Covid-19 have arguably accelerated this. Although bricks and mortar stores have been shut down, much loved brands such as Debenhams and those under the Arcadia Group have shifted to an online platform due to them being purchased by the Manchester company Boohoo Group PLC and ASOS.

Lack of footfall in the city centre

At the height of Covid-19, footfall in city centres was almost non-existent due to the stringent lockdown requirements and guidance for people to work from home. However, this did lead to increased footfall and business for more local shops and businesses.

Centre for Cities 2022 has reported that city centres are now slowly reclaiming their role as centres of consumption, however, the high street’s recovery will depend on the return of office workers.

On a more positive note, February 2022 has been reported as having the highest overall footfall averaged across the UK’s 63 largest city centres since the onset of the pandemic. On average, larger cities such as Manchester are now approaching full recovery and nearly 90% of pre-pandemic weekday footfall is back.

How can the Retail Industry adapt to these changes?

Utilising retail floor space to its full potential

In terms of bricks and mortar stores, some companies that have managed to weather the storm of the ‘death of the high street’ and the impact of Brexit and Covid (such as Primark), have utilised its floor space by diversifying the services it offers through the implementation of Beauty Salons, Barbers and a Friends café, as well as selling fashion.

In terms of the food and drink sector, Manchester Locals Feel Good Club have combined the ability to dine for coffee, brunch and cocktails whilst being able to seek mental health advice from one of their Mental Health First Aid trained staff members or alternatively just offering a relaxed space to work. They also regularly host events and guest speakers.  They also have a pop-up shop in store where they sell their own merchandise.

Adapting to changing consumer demands

Deloitte has anticipated the potential retail trends for 2022 and have recognised that circularity is on a growth trajectory, with the second-hand clothing sector expecting to grow faster than fast fashion. Generation Z are now becoming consumers as customers and also by entering into the workforce. There is a heightened awareness of where the products that we consume and wear are coming from and the impact that this has on our planet, the climate and the future. Consumer attitudes towards sustainability are therefore predicted to influence our buying decisions when considering how to deliver on climate promises and achieve science-based targets to reduce emissions. The retail sector should adapt to this change, by reconsidering their sustainability strategies and policies.