Shopping

Almost 50 Shop Closures a Day in First Half of 2021

New research has found there were almost 50 shop closures a day in the first half of 2021, with the high street suffering the worst and almost all types of chain stores seeing a decline (unsurprisingly, takeaways and job centres grew in the period). BBC News has the story.

More than 8,700 chain stores closed in British high streets, shopping centres and retail parks in the first six months of this year, research suggests. …

But despite some high-profile retail failures, the number of closures has fallen compared with a year earlier.

City centres have suffered the worst, while retail parks are faring better.

The store closure figures were collected by the Local Data Company on behalf of accountancy firm PwC.

“After an acceleration in store closures last year couple[d] with last minute Christmas tier restrictions and lockdowns extending into 2021, we might have expected a higher number of store closures this year,” says Lisa Hooker, consumer markets lead at PwC.

She believes continued Government support combined with resilient consumer spending has helped many operators weather the storm and survive the pandemic.

The Local Data Company tracked more than 200,000 stores operated by businesses with more five outlets across Great Britain. These include everything from retail and restaurants, to cafes, banks and gyms. …

Fashion retailers recorded the biggest decline reflecting the collapse of Sir Philip Green’s retail empire which saw his brands, including TopShop and Dorothy Perkins, disappear from the High Street.

More than 120 department stores also shut for good. 

There was also a decline in car showrooms, betting shops and banks, providing yet more evidence of changing shopping behaviour and the shift to online.

Data also shows that store openings were at their lowest level for six years. Leisure dominated the growth with takeaway chains leading the way.

Worth reading in full.

Supermarkets Planning to Scrap Plastic Screens

In another small step towards normality, supermarket bosses have finally begun preparations to remove the plastic screens at tills that were intended to act as a protective measure against Covid. The Telegraph has the story.

Major supermarkets and non-food retailers have held early discussions with contractors over how and when they might be taken down, industry sources said. One senior executive said: “They don’t want the removal to be just another plastic crime that occurs, so we’ve started those discussions.” 

One of the options being considered is a scheme to recycle the screens en masse and recover some of the costs of purchasing them at the start of the pandemic.

Supermarkets spent hundreds of millions of pounds on measures such as screens, antibacterial gel and extra staff at the doors.

The costs were cited by some retailers, including Iceland and Waitrose, as a reason not to pay back the business rates relief even as food sales boomed.

Although no deadline has been set, one removal company is putting together a plan “to get rid of them”.

After ‘Freedom Day’ in July, sandwich chain Pret was the first company to remove screens saying it would “help speed up service and ensure we limit overcrowding”. It also swiftly made face coverings voluntary for staff and customers. High street retailers were divided at the time whether to ask customers to keep their masks.

Since July, the Government has asked employers to continue to use measures to reduce potential spread of the virus, but much of the language now involves “encouraging” firms to do so.

Worth reading in full.

Iceland Forced to Hire Thousands More Staff Because of “Pingdemic” Shortage

Supermarket chain Iceland is having to recruit 2,000 backup staff to stave off disruption caused by the “pingdemic” after the Government told businesses they “should not be encouraging [staff] to break isolation”. Iceland has been forced to reduce opening hours and to shut some stores due to staff being told to stay at home by the NHS Covid app. The Guardian has the story.

Richard Walker, the Head of Iceland, said that a handful of outlets had been forced to close after more than 1,000 workers – just more than three per cent of the group’s total – had been asked to self-isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the app.

However, he said the company had decided to take on more staff as the problems were patchy – with some stores experiencing much higher vacancy rates than others – while the number of people having to isolate was “growing about 50% week on week, and that was really alarming”.

Grocery chain Iceland is aiming to recruit 2,000 spare staff to help cover absences caused by the self-isolation “pingdemic”, as retailers warned it was becoming difficult to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked.

Walker called on the Government to adjust the app or self-isolation rules urgently, ahead of planned changes on August 16th. “Supermarkets need to focus on feeding the nation not writing to Government departments,” he said. He said that about 96% of those alerted by the NHS app who worked for Iceland did not test positive for Covid.

Andrew Opie, Director of Food at the British Retail Consortium trade body, said staff shortages could have an impact on opening hours and shelf stacking. 

“The ongoing ‘pingdemic’ is putting increasing pressure on retailers’ ability to maintain opening hours and keep shelves stocked. Government needs to act fast,” said Opie. “Retail workers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a negative Covid test, to ensure there is no disruption to the public’s ability to get food and other goods.”

The warning came as the British Meat Processors’ Association (BMPA) said some plants had already been hit by staff shortages of up to 16% even without the impact of the pingdemic. 

“On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the [health service] app and asked to self-isolate,” said the Chief Executive of BMPA, Nick Allen.

The shortage of workers affected the meat products that require more labour to produce, he said, meaning those lines would be the first to be cut.

Worth reading in full.

Sainsbury’s and Tesco to Continue Telling Customers to Wear Face Masks After ‘Freedom Day’

A growing number of retail giants are going to continue asking customers to wear face masks in their stores after the much-anticipated ‘easing’ of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’. The Government says that it “expects and recommends” people to continue mask-wearing after July 19th – a plea that has so far been backed by Waterstones, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and more. What’s most disappointing is that this appears to be what customers want. BBC News has the story.

Sainsbury’s said signs and tannoy announcements would remind shoppers to cover their faces.

Tesco said it wanted to “be on the safe side”.

The chain will also continue to limit the number of shoppers in store at any one time.

The Government has said it “expects and recommends” shoppers in England to wear face masks from Monday. But the legal requirement to cover your face in enclosed spaces will end. Different rules apply in the devolved nations.

The new guidance leaves firms to decide their own safety policies after July 19th when Covid rules are lifted. …

Primark has said it won’t have signage requesting customers to wear masks but hopes they will continue to do so. John Timpson, Founder of the keycutting and shoe repair chain, said the decision would be left to customers.

Sainsbury’s said its strategy reflected feedback from customers and colleagues, with the majority of those surveyed in favour of keeping the mask policy in place.

The chain said some Covid measures, such as screens between self-service checkouts and checkout queues, would be gradually removed. However screens between checkout staff and customers will remain in place. …

Dr Roger Barker, Policy Director at the Institute of Directors, said: “Like everybody else, businesses across the country having been awaiting ‘Freedom Day’ with bated breath.

“But instead we have had a series of mixed messages and patchwork requirements from Government that have dampened that enthusiasm.”

Worth reading in full.

Cold Weather Takes Shine Off Reopening

According to a retail analyst Springboard, shopping activity didn’t return to pre-pandemic levels yesterday thanks to the cold weather. Meanwhile, only two in five pubs opened in England due to the lack of suitable outside space. The Times has more.

Britain’s notoriously fickle spring weather dampened the high street’s recovery yesterday as lockdown restrictions were eased.

People going to shops, pubs and restaurants for the first time in more than three months endured cold conditions and even snow. On the south coast, temperatures were as low as 5C, half the usual average for the time of year. Little Rissington in Gloucestershire recorded 4cm of snow.

Shoppers who braved the cold appeared to be preparing to party. John Lewis reported that decanters, tumblers and highball glasses were “by far” the most popular purchases yesterday morning, with champagne and gift bags the two next most popular categories.

Some stores, such as Primark and Ikea, had queues first thing, but the number of people visiting high streets overall was a quarter lower than the equivalent day two years ago.

The retail analyst Springboard said that shopping centres had fared better, although they were still down on a normal day, suggesting that the weather had been a deterrent for many people.

Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: “The cold and snow will have kept an awful lot of people at home, particularly older people. That said, the pandemic is still casting a long shadow over retail.

“Shoppers are more cautious and the shift online represents a big structural challenge to high street stores.”

The British Beer and Pub Association estimated that only two in five pubs reopened yesterday because most venues lack a big enough outdoor space to trade profitably. It acknowledged that the cold weather would have deterred some customers.

You can read the article here.