What challenges will the high street face this Christmas?

Have you already started your Christmas shopping? While it may feel too early for some, many marketers will have begun planning for the festive period months ago as retail businesses gear up for a Christmas like no other.

The jewellery retailer F. Hinds is one of the businesses managing the impacts of what has been an exceptionally challenging year for the British high street. Earlier this year, Company Director Andrew Hinds told Exeter Daily:

‘On 23rd March we took the decision to close all our stores, then the same day the government announced the compulsory closure anyway. All our store teams and the vast majority of our head office staff have been on furlough since then. 

‘Members of our payroll and web teams have continued to work and we are starting to increase numbers as we plan for a gradual reopening of stores, hopefully starting in a couple of weeks’ time.’ 

The future of the high street already appeared uncertain, with UK consumers doing an increasing amount of their Christmas shopping online even before the virus struck. Ecommerce sales accounted for an estimated 44% of the UK’s total spend in 2019.

So what more changes can we expect as we move into what would traditionally be the busiest period of the year?   

New in-store experiences

Many consumers will already be familiar with a new shopping experience, with masks, social distancing and other measures likely to become permanent fixtures over winter.

‘We expect to have to respond to changing current events throughout the rest of 2020 and probably beyond’, Andrew predicts.  

Narrower ranges are also likely to come into play in larger stores as businesses aim to increase efficiency.    

Shifting habits

But will people visit physical stores as they did before? Despite reports of long queues in the weeks following the reopening of shops, footfall remains below the levels of previous years.

An Ipsos Mori survey released in May found 43% of Britons would feel uncomfortable shopping in stores other than supermarkets. Online sales meanwhile have boomed, with a significant portion of shoppers expected to change their habits permanently.       

‘The only silver lining so far is that online sales have been relatively strong, but these are still only a small proportion of our usual overall turnover’, Andrew added.

Targeted discounts

Mirroring the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, piles of unsold stock are likely to lead to widespread discounting in an effort to lure customers back and recover some of the losses suffered in lockdown.

In-store only deals meanwhile could be used to further entice shoppers back to physical locations. For those adamant about choosing presents as they would normally, these targeted offers could bring welcome savings.

This Christmas will undoubtedly be challenging for the high street. But as Andrew notes, safety should ultimately come above all else.

‘Our goals for the year ahead start with keeping our customers and staff safe. We then hope to return as close to normal as we can.’


The Exeter Daily