Jul 6, 2020
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Concerns over Oxford Street future as social distancing bites

Jul 6, 2020

New footfall figures for the weekend show the extent of the challenge facing major shopping destinations with Oxford Street in particular under heavy pressure.

New West End Company

London’s premier shopping street is also usually the busiest shopping street in Europe and, with adjacent thoroughfares Bond Street and Regent Street, also makes up some of the world’s most expensive retail space.

That means retailers in the area need to generate a higher level of sales per square foot than just about anywhere else in Britain, something they’re not doing at present.  

With international and domestic tourism still almost non-existent, many people working from home and social distancing controls in place, the usually-busy West End stores are extremely quiet. But social distancing rules also mean they might not be able to make the money they need per square foot, even if there were enough consumers wanting to shop there.

The Telegraph reported that some of the flagship stores on Oxford Street only have the capacity for less than 100 customers, citing M&S and Urban Outfitters. Size is a key factor in how many people can enter at any time with Topshop’s flagship, for instance, operating a one customer per 172 sq ft rule, the newspaper said.

It all means Selfridges can accommodate up to 2,500 people, but Niketown will only allow 249 customers at a time.

This potentially means big queues when shopper number start to rise, although fashionnetwork.com's visits to Oxford Street since reopening have revealed few queues, suggesting visitor traffic is largely nowhere near breaching the hugely restrictive number limits so far.

The Telegraph quoted experts saying that this could impact the profitability of West End stores in a big way.

Dr Gordon Fletcher, a retail expert at the University of Salford Business School, said: “The maths is there on the doorway. You have a throttle at the front door in terms of who can come in and out — you cannot translate that footfall into the amount of turnover that is necessary on a daily basis to simply maintain a store.”

Richard Lim, CEO of Retail Economics said shopping destinations like Oxford Street will have to face up to the new reality in which some UK-based shoppers will prefer to shop locally.

“People want to shop more locally — they don’t want to go to flagship locations, they would rather go to their local high street that they can get to without using public transport,” he said.

With regional flagships and online shopping meaning full brand offers are available to all, this also reduces the appeal of visiting an Oxford Street flagship and suggests that the West End needs to focus on exclusives and experiences in order to assert its uniqueness.

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