High Street shops left behind in UK’s economic recovery

The future of thousands of businesses ‘hangs in the balance’ as the High Street is left behind in the UK’s economic recovery, industry leaders warned yesterday. 

Figures showed retail sales rose above pre-pandemic levels for the first time in July – but experts said this disguised a gaping divide between booming online sales and bricks-and-mortar shops, which face ruin. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that clothing stores were ‘worst hit’ during the pandemic and sales were still down by a quarter in July, compared to February. 

Facing ruin: Clothing stores were 'worst hit' during the pandemic and sales were still down by a quarter in July, compared to February

Facing ruin: Clothing stores were 'worst hit' during the pandemic and sales were still down by a quarter in July, compared to February

Facing ruin: Clothing stores were ‘worst hit’ during the pandemic and sales were still down by a quarter in July, compared to February

By contrast online sales have soared, despite shops, cafes and restaurants re-opening, with sales remaining 50.4 per cent higher in July than before the pandemic. There are fears that permanent changes to people’s shopping habits will mortally wound the High Street. 

John Lewis is axing 1,300 staff and shutting eight stores as it expects online sales to make up 60 per cent of total takings, up from 40 per cent before the pandemic. 

And Marks & Spencer has cut 7,950 jobs as part of a rapid shift to reinvent itself online. 

On Thursday Estee Lauder said it would shut up to one in seven stores as it accelerated its investment online. 

Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group, which owns Sports Direct, announced it would spend £100m on its online business after revealing 109 store closures. 

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘The latest ONS sales results mask a crisis under way in some parts of the retail industry. The survival of many retail businesses hangs in the balance.’ 

Retail analyst Kate Hardcastle said: ‘Areas like clothing have been completely obliterated. So when we talk about the rebound, sales haven’t returned to the same areas.’ 

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