My Column

An empty feeling for the high street

  • Date: Wednesday 8th April 2020
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Looking back through the years, I’ve often touched on the precarious situation our high street finds itself in through this column.

In fact the decline in high street trading has been such that an average of nine businesses close every month and over 400 have closed in Scotland alone since 2016.

Those were difficult figures to comprehend just four weeks ago, but if we felt that retail was walking on a tight rope only then, what now for our high street in this current Coronavirus crisis – what horrors await?

With the Prime Minister ordering the UK into lockdown to help curb the spread of COVID-19, our high streets have suffered their worst month on record - with retailers both large and small worried about the future.

One of the country's most closely followed retail industry barometers, the BDO high street sales tracker, showed that like-for-like sales fell by 17.9 per cent for the month and instore sales plunged a whopping 34.1 per cent.

Watch the news and you certainly don’t need BDO figures to show that retailers have been hammered. Images of empty high streets and boarded up shops the length and breadth of the country are testament to that. 

Even before the situation we are now faced with, online shopping has played a huge factor in the decline of the high street.

Scots and the rest of the UK have turned to online shopping through our phones and laptops at a higher rate than many other nations.

In fact, it would be easy to say that this pandemic has only increased our shift from shopping in brick and mortar stores to taking our spending online.

Everyone who wasn’t online is now taking to it, either to stay close to family, enjoy their weekly worship, buy their soap and pasta or catch up with friends.

In three months, when hopefully this lockdown is finished, those who were scared or unaccustomed to shopping online will be au fait with e-commerce sites and ordering their essentials or splurging on the next big thing.

With this new found expertise and reliance on online shopping, many believe it is sounding the death knell for retail as we know it. In a recently published report, the Centre for Retail Research have come out to say that more than 20,000 stores will be lost by the end of the year, a massive leap on the 4,547 that closed in 2019 across the UK.

The knock on effect? 235,000 jobs being lost, up from 93,000 in 2019, which was the worst year for retail for a quarter of a century. 

It is truly worrying times when you also see real institutions, retailers you have grown to know and love, ring the alarm bells over their future.

LAUGH 

Sometimes it takes a major life event for communities to really come together.

In the past we’ve all been guilty of keeping ourselves to ourselves, so over the past few weeks seeing people come together to help their elderly and vulnerable neighbours is really lifting my mood at this difficult time.

While the vast majority are shopping and delivering supplies to those in need, one Coatbridge man decided to entertain his neighbours with an Elvis tribute act direct from his veranda instead.

The video doing the rounds on social media has provided some much needed comic relief, whilst we’re all unfortunately self-isolating at home.

We’re all doing our bit to help each other and his show certainly cheered me up, proving a little Shake, Rattle and Roll is always needed.

WEEP 

With life as we know it changed for now, one really sad aspect of the lockdown is the fact we cannot attend memorials.

Gatherings are of course off limits due to social distancing rules, however an annual remembrance service dedicated to the 16 people on board a North Sea helicopter which crashed and killed everyone on board in 2009 has overcome this by moving online.

Family and friends usually gather in Aberdeen every year to remember, but thankfully industry chaplain Rev Gordon Craig ensured it would still go ahead by recording the memorial and sharing it online.

It looks like this will be the new normal for a while, but as long as people can still attend in some capacity, this is both reassuring and will help the grieving process for all.

 

SIDE 

Due to the current climate we are living in, many people are deeply concerned about their jobs and income.

Every sector is affected, but one industry in particular is becoming a hot topic for sports fans.

The football season is now on hold, with Scottish stadiums closing their doors and players going in to lockdown and self-isolating.

What’s important to remember here though is that football does not only include the players, there are many non-playing employees and staff who are also impacted.

The main media focus within Scottish football for the past week has been on Hearts, since players were asked to take a fifty per cent pay cut or have their salaries suspended through clause 12 of their SPFL contracts.

Understandably, Tynecastle players are unhappy at these demands by their club and have involved the Professional Footballers Association Scotland to demand a wage deferral instead.

Some players have stepped forward however, including club captain Steven Naismith publically accepting the pay cut whilst manager Daniel Stendel heroically waived his wage to help the club’s finances. But I’m not sure this will be enough.

It is an unprecedented situation and at this moment no one has an answer. What I do know though is clubs must plan ahead and make use of all options available to them, as we don’t know when football will kick off once again.

Last week we have seen clubs such as Celtic and Hamilton take up the government furlough scheme to ensure all non-playing staff jobs are safe until the SPFL kicks back off again, which can only be viewed as a positive.

Those in charge of the financial decisions at these clubs need to think pragmatically to ensure there are no job losses. After all it is a business they are running.

 

 

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