The full impact of the pandemic is starting to reveal itself with a recent study showing that 11,000 high street stores closed down in 2020 and a further 18,000 may close in 2021.
The global lockdown has caused havoc to economies all over the world, including right here in the UK.
In fact we've actually been hit pretty bad because the UK economy is heavily reliant on the services sector.
Over 11,000 outlets completely disappeared from our high streets, and shopping centres last year, with the larger chains and city centres, hit the hardest.
What about furlough?
The furlough scheme has been a life-saver for many businesses, but establishments that have overheads way beyond the scope of paying employees have fallen short of getting what they need to survive, even with the bounce back loans provided by the government.
Over 9,000 chain outlets and 1,442 other retail, restaurant and leisure premises shut up shop in the UK in 2020.
More closures imminenet in 2021
Those that managed to survive the 2020 lockdown have had to dig deep to remain solvent in 2021, however, a research group has said that 18,000 more shops, restaurants and leisure outlets could be closing their doors after the dramatic collapse of major retail groups including Debenhams, Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, to name but a few.
Even household names such as John Lewis announced they would be shutting down some stores for good as they refocus and invest more in their online channels.
What about the leisure sector?
Restaurants, pubs, bars, cinemas and theatres are bracing themselves for what the future holds after restrictions are eased.
It is unclear whether consumers will return in numbers and if the demand is there, will they be in a position to service that demand if social distancing laws are in place, which will limit their capacity.
Oxford Street in the heart of London's shopping area is deserted at midday during the pandemic lockdown. The future is uncertain for many brands.
Consumers look online
With so many high street stores closed or closing, and little sign that they will be back to pre-pandemic levels, consumers are looking online in much bigger numbers than before.
Is e-commerce ready for the surge?
A recent report showed that 30% of online sites were unable to cope with the increased demand from consumers during the lockdown.
Websites moving too slowly due to bandwidth issues, low stock levels and not enough personnel were among the main reasons why many online retailers failed to capitalise from the increase in online shopping.
Going forward in order for online stores to make the most of the trend towards e-commerce, fulfilment will be the competitive
differentiator. Studies show that consumers gravitate to brands offering fast, free, sustainable shipping.
Amazon Prime leads the way with next-day delivery. Around 70% of consumers expect same or next day delivery and the same number of consumers also want brands to use sustainable packaging.
Free shipping is a key driver for sales
The study from Shopify also said that the majority of consumers say free shipping heavily impacts whether or not they buy from a brand.
The one thing certain about the future of retail is that the new battlefield will be online because even if Covid-19 coronavirus is eradicated completely, businesses will have already invested huge sums into their online platforms and they may get used to the idea of not having high street stores ever again.
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