To say that the coronavirus situation has profoundly impacted on the UK retail sector would be something of an understatement.

The obvious immediate enforced changes or temporary closures during periods of lockdown have  in many cases transformed into permanent closures as brands look to reduce costs. Meanwhile, many familiar retail names have opted to shift their operations either partly or fully online.

Some of these developments may seem to represent an acceleration of trends already evident long before the pandemic. After all, retail businesses were generally well aware, even prior to COVID-19, of the ever-heightening importance of being active on social media, showing brand transparency, and espousing sustainability.

These are all trends that have long exerted their influence on how British retailers continually reinterpret and evolve their online presence.

So, what has been especially notable about how brands have responded to the previously unheard-of conditions the pandemic has brought? In a nutshell, retailers have shifted their focus from how they can survive in the short term, to how they can thrive in the longer term – with the UK High Street unlikely to ever be quite the same again.

What have specific retailers done in response to the pandemic?

We have reached the stage of the coronavirus crisis where, for a great number of high-street brands, the permanent closure of stores has become all but unavoidable. This has led many of them to switch some roles to the e-commerce sector, as part of a broad rethinking of their business approach.

We have seen, for example, John Lewis closing some of its stores permanently and considering heavy investment in e-tail. Indeed, the partnership has stated that online shopping now accounts for 60-70% of its sales, compared to just 40% before the pandemic.

The shirts and ties retailer T. M. Lewin, meanwhile, went into pre-pack administration last summer, and announced that all 66 of its UK stores would be shuttered. However, the brand continues to have an e-commerce presence.

Cath Kidston, too, fell into administration not long after the beginning of the first lockdown. As a consequence, all 60 of the chain’s UK stores were closed, although its online operations remain.

Away from the obvious high-street retailers, even major names in the arts have discovered the value of maximising an accessible online presence.

The National Theatre, for instance, has caught the eye with its ‘National Theatre at Home’ streaming service, which makes available one-off rentals, monthly and annual subscriptions to an international audience. This will doubtless include many individuals who would not have had the luxury of visiting the theatre in person, even before the pandemic and is an example of how COVID-19 may even present opportunities for brands to expand, rather than merely retain an audience.

However, the broader trend is not just of retailers shifting previously brick-and-mortar operations online but also of offering their own delivery services. Cambridge Wine Merchants is among those to have rapidly moved to offer in-house delivery to customers based nearby. Other retailers have used existing delivery platforms such as Deliveroo, Ocado and Just Eat, thereby fuelling their stellar growth during the coronavirus crisis.

Position your business advantageously to thrive after the worst of the pandemic

While we may never live in a truly ‘post-COVID-19’ world and much uncertainty remains about the recovery, one thing has become clear for brands across the UK — the importance of modernising and retaining the agility to thrive in an era when the high street may not have the same role it once did.

We can play our own role in helping your business to not just survive, but thrive in the months and years ahead here at London Registrars. To learn more about our expertise and track record in company secretarial practice for PLCs, please do not wait any longer to contact our team or call us direct on 07415 107436.

1 March 2021