Like it or not, there’s no simple solution for retail, as last week’s varied round of results showed.
Everyone is feeling the squeeze, from small shops to big department stores and the once indestructible supermarkets.
A decade on from the start of retail’s woes, we have discovered what retailers need is to be light on their feet and able to adapt to different conditions quickly.
Last week’s trading results showed those adapting to demand had the most success. Tesco’s like-for-like sales over Christmas were up 2.6% due to a focus on quality and value; John Lewis put its positive results down to a focus on differentiated products and services. But almost everyone said online sales were up and in-store sales down.
There are still physical ways we can help physical retail. There is a need for business rate reform, making the system more responsive to reflect physical conditions and also by levelling the playing field with online competition by taxing income fairly.
And we should still look at simple ideas like free parking and increasing experiential and leisure-focused retail offerings.
Longer term, we need to be honest with ourselves. We must get spending power back on to the high street, be that through more city-centre residential or by rebalancing the economy away from London.
We also need to accept we need less retail space – so let’s convert it to resi and embrace rather than fight the growth logistics has seen off the back of retail’s decline.