The face of physical retail has drastically changed across the globe, from fashion’s famous capitals to the hidden-away local high streets. One place in particular that’s taken a huge metaphorical beating is Oxford Street – once a titan of the British retail scene. A central shopping location that has arguably been plagued with issues before the pandemic arrived on its doorstep, there’s now cause for concern that the fallout from COVID-19 will be the final nail in the coffin. Can Oxford street turn it around and how can it best face its current issues?
If you went for an essential exercise walk through Central London, you’d see Oxford street at a complete standstill. Many of the big household names face their doors closing for good, moving to e-commerce only and having to scramble to maintain a grip on their decades of history. In fact, the New West End Company predict that a fifth of retail premises along the street won’t open after pandemic lockdown measure start to lift. Even before these obstacles were in the way, many felt as though there was little reason to make an appearance – with a lack of relaxed public space, dilapidated buildings and few shops that actually hold consumer appeal. However, help may soon be on hand. Local authorities have cited a plan to reinvent the capital’s main street, injecting £150 million in order to kickstart the glorious retail hub that once was.
We don’t have to look far to see how massive retail reinvention can be handled. The Berlin shopping destination of Kurfuerstendamm once saw a haemorrhaging of sales from those who preferred to spend online or with smaller, independent stores. By bouncing back with a blended mix of high-end, independent and restaurants, the street showed it could adapt and provide a new consumer demand, as well as highlighting a potential opportunity that could be thrown in the direction of smaller business. With the infamous Champs Elysée looking to adopt a similar strategy, Oxford Street needs to be looking to get its act together.
Looking to the nearby Piccadilly Circus area, retail has shifted from the previous wall-to-wall unclassified storefronts selling tourist merchandise. Oxford Street may need to follow down a similar path in order to become inspiring once more, although progress could be hindered by the fact that properties along the street are owned by multiple landlords. Despite this, landlords could look to pull together as the council commits to funding, alongside hope for additional short-term boosts laid out in the latest set of measure, from extended furlough to property tax relief. Authorities need to be open to flexibility to what could inhabit retail space, with tech giants like Netflix ideal for hosting experiential retail – a strategy that reminds us of other influential retail areas. With a lot going on behind the scenes, and a great want for consumers to be outdoors in relaxed space and spending, Oxford Street certainly has the potential to be great once again.
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