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The high street is in flux and needs to adapt to changing shopping habits

Drapers online content editor James Knowles on the outlook for the UK fashion property sector.

We’re all used to hearing about our struggling high streets, with empty units and stores put out of business by out-of-town shopping and ecommerce operators. But is the situation really that bad? The answer is no – as it happens, stores are still pretty important to shoppers and vacancy rates as of July were stable at 13%, according to figures from the Local Data Company. What is true, however, is that ours is a high street in flux and one that needs to adapt to changing consumer shopping habits.

The reduction in retailers’ property portfolios, which sees them withdrawing from secondary locations in favour of prime locations supported by a strong multichannel offer – which they say creates a ‘halo’ effect encompassing local areas where they once had stores – is not a new phenomenon. But perhaps we haven’t yet got to the point where we’re seeing how the high street has adapted to this change? Well, we might be seeing it now.

Just look at the struggles the once all-mighty supermarkets are facing, with many closing their out-of-town locations in favour of smaller, convenience options in town. Not only does this have an impact on their fashion operations – the likes of Tu and F&F, which are often housed in these larger formats – but it also comes at a time when certain retailers are capitalising on this structural change. Take, for example, new market entrant Pep&Co opening 50 stores in 50 days in exactly these locations, or traditional out-of-town operator Matalan beginning to open prime city-centre stores on Oxford Street and in Cardiff.

With around 50% of leases currently up for renewal, what this tells us is that we are likely to see a great deal of change, perhaps with new market entrants and certainly in the pop-up space. So, as much as we’re likely to see many retailers continuing to refine their property portfolios, it will present opportunities to others.

We hope you enjoy this edition of our Property Special, and as ever, we’d love to hear your feedback.


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