The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the High Street

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, but especially the high street. In fact, predictions were being made last year about how many high street businesses were going to struggle in 2020 before we had even heard of COVID-19. This means that they have suffered a double whammy of the ‘decline’ of the high street alongside the restrictions that the coronavirus pandemic has placed on us.

All is not lost, however. We are beginning to see an end in sight in terms of the virus and with some changes being made, many high street businesses still stand a chance of getting through this tough patch and enjoying the fruits of their labour once again soon. Here at Boxpod, we are noticing how the commercial property market is still going strong, but that businesses on the high street need to adapt themselves now and, in the future, to remain successful.

Changes to the High Street During and After the Pandemic

We have seen many changes to the high street during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of which are likely to be short-lived, whilst others look like they are set to stay.

The limiting of the number of people allowed into shops at any given time, the provision of hand sanitizer at shop entrances, and the mandatory wearing of masks, for example, are hopefully short-lived measures. However, it is likely that we will see shops re-arranging layouts for better social distancing, incorporating technology, and reducing the amount of cash that they use in the future too. COVID, it seems, is accelerating trends rather than setting them.

With changes in the way that many are working, we are noticing a difference in where people are spending their many. As city centres empty, we are seeing more and more people shopping locally. According to YouGov, two-fifths of Brits shopped locally during the lockdown, and 70% of those who shopped locally during the lockdown intend to continue to do so afterwards. This is mainly due to three reasons:

  • Many more people are spending more time working from home, meaning that they spend less time in city centre offices (although, this hasn’t affected demand for office space and commercial property as much as was expected). These people are still going out and spending their money, but increasingly locally.
  • More people are keen to support local shops and businesses, so, are choosing to spend their money on them rather than chain stores or massive, faceless companies.
  • The public has a desire to limit their use of public transport due to fears around the virus and a wish to walk to shops as much as possible.

This means that although a challenging time for everyone, some local businesses are thriving.

Online Shopping

The rise of online shopping is a trend that we have seen for much longer than the Coronavirus pandemic, however, the pandemic has sped up its popularity (out of necessity) and it is likely that this is here to stay. This ‘threat’ has consequences for the high street – although not necessarily a negative one.

One of the benefits of going to a physical shop is the experience that you get. The bespoke service, the ability to try things on, or the immediate gratification of walking out of the shop with a product in hand. The customer experience is a vital element and if a business can create a unique and pleasurable experience for their customers, perhaps incorporating technology and adapting continuously, it stands every chance of prospering in the high street both now and in the future.

According to Neil Wild, of Wild Property Consultancy, the customer experience is everything. “The global pandemic is accelerating key trends shaping the future of retail. The high street is not the same as it once was. Businesses unable to adapt to the internet age are facing serious challenges. Customer experience is key, but difficult to balance with an increased focus on safety protocols, mandatory face coverings, and reduced in-store services.”

Food

Food sales is an area that has been booming over the lockdowns as eating out has become more difficult (if not, impossible). Supermarkets, cafes, and takeaway facilities have been very popular, with some supermarkets, for example, being so successful that they are returning the rate relief that they have received from the government.

Research shows that organic food has been especially successful adding further fuel to the fire that the public is buying more conscientiously than previously.

Landlord and Tenant Communications

Another change that we are beginning to see in the high street regards the communication between landlords and their tenants. At a time when there is economic instability (through COVID-19 as well as the uncertainty over Brexit), this has never been so important.

Although the rules haven’t changed related to the payment of rent by businesses on the high street to their landlords, there can be solutions found for businesses that are struggling with their rent. It is, therefore, imperative that lines of communication are good between both parties. Generally, a landlord would not want to evict a tenant as much as a tenant would not wish to be evicted, so it is in everyone’s best interests that there is good communication between the two.

As Wild explains, “As financial support from the government fades, the strength of the landlord and tenant relationship will again be key. There is a need for ongoing dialogue and understanding of one another’s position… Landlords should see it as a two-way relationship and that means working together. For mutual benefit, Landlords may have to consider ways of restructuring the lease to support any changes tenants are experiencing.”

Final Thoughts

One thing is for sure – the high street post-pandemic will not be the same one as we knew before coronavirus hit the world. It is likely, however, that local businesses who focus on quality customer service and providing a great shopping experience will prosper, and we may find that the virus has a hugely positive effect on the high street of the future.

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