The rapid implosion of an A-Z of retailers this year is unnerving: Adams, Dolcis, MFI, MK One, the Officers Club, Olan Mills, the Pier, Rosebys, Stead and Simpson, USC, Whittards of Chelsea, Woolworths, and what used to be Virgin Megastores but is now apparently Zavvi. (These links take you to screenshots of their websites as of 29th December 2008). The case of Zavvi is particularly interesting because it was severely damaged when Woolworths’ wholesale arm could no longer supply it with CDs and DVDs.
What is different about this retail recession is – if you’ll pardon the pun – the wholesale nature of it. Each of these failures leaves boarded up premises in hundreds or even thousands of towns. The shock is palpable when giants of the high street fold, but of course it isn’t necesarily worse than the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of individual local traders going under. But it is certainly more unnerving.
The video below shows how Walmart took over the US between 1962 and 2007, but all our retailers have been expanding in similar ways in the last 20 years in the UK.
Imagine those lights going out in reverse order. No, I don’t want to think about it either.
The Telegraph‘s headline says one in 10 shops will stand empty, but in the text it speculates it could be as much as 15% of retail floor space, and the Times today discusses the different ways that administrators are salvaging something – anything – from the various wreckages. Me, I wouldn’t want anything to do with a retail business right now. Online, maybe. Retail, no.
What is really scary is how much of the boarded up space in high streets, shopping centres and retail parks will never be viable as retail premises again. When consumer spending finally revives, it’ll be online. I can see one possible future in which our former market towns pleasant places to live, if wise town planners give planning permission for shops to revert back to dwellings and make residents’ parking safe and cheap. But there really is nothing you can do with an out of town shopping centre, not even turn it back to the agricultural land it was 15 years ago. These videos of the Trafford Centre, Bluewater and Lakeside Thurrock from the excellent BBC series Britain from Above hint at the scale of this problem.
Vodpod videos no longer available.
I tried googling for images of missing teeth, because that is the obvious metaphor but all I found was endless photos of cute kids, interspersed with ads for dental practices. Instead, I’ll leave you with a screenshot of Woolworth’s website from the 29th December:
And I don’t really have a conclusion. What conclusion is there? As Napoleon said, we are a nation of shopkeepers.