Tube workers are on strike again, and it’s not just commuters who are affected. Central London retailers will be just as fed up.
The walkouts are seen as a major blow to many London-based retailers as the subsequent travel chaos puts consumers off shopping while much of the Tube network is down.
“London business owners and employees will both be dismayed at the prospect of yet another tube strike and the accompanying disruption, lost revenue and squandered opportunities it will inevitably bring to our great city,” says Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
This week’s strikes are the result of a dispute between Transport for London (TFL) and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union over plans to close ticket offices. The strikes kicked off last night at 9.30pm and are set to last until Wednesday evening.
Strikes will no doubt hit retailers in the West End as Londoners refrain from taking longer and more inconvenient travel journeys to make their purchases.
Fortnum & Mason chief executive Ewan Venters tweeted his frustration this morning, saying the upmarket retailer felt the impact of the impending Tube strike before the strike had even begun last night.
He tweeted: “The drop in sales started yesterday as shoppers stayed away from the west end with the threat of strike. Bad news for London.” In a response to a tweet, he added: “…and in the food and restaurant business, when you’re lost a days sales, you never get it back! #badforbusiness.” [sic]
Phil Whittle, head of store operations at Schuh, says: “The tube strike is unfortunately having a negative effect on trade especially in central London but we are seeing an uplift in sales in secondary locations, such as Wood Green and Brent Cross with people choosing to shop locally.”
Moss Bros chief executive Brian Brick told Retail Week: “From staff being able to get in, to customers getting to the shops, I don’t know anyone who finds this helpful. We don’t know yet how it will impact sales but certainly central [London] would be the most impacted.”
It’s hard to estimate exactly how much money retailers will lose as a result of the strikes. The LCCI, which has previously released figures on strikes in the past, said it would not be estimating the cost to businesses. The average tube strike costs London’s economy about £48m, but this figure is based on a survey compiled in 2007 after a major tube strike which closed the entire network. The cost of this week’s Tube strike is harder to estimate given some of the lines are still running.
Amanda Callaghan, director of corporate affairs at the BRC, says: “We won’t have any actual data on the potential impact of the strikes on sales until next month so we can’t speculate at this time. However commuters seem to be making every effort to get to work and retailers will be working hard to attract customers into stores.”
Some retailers may even benefit, including convenience stores, which are likely to take advantage of the uptick in commuters choosing to walk to work rather than use the Tube.
James Lowman, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, says: “Local shops tend to benefit from travel disruption, and forecourt stores will benefit from more people travelling by car rather than by tube. We do not have any figures about sales with the current tube strike, but we expect to see a net increase in sales over this 48 hours.”
Cycling retailers could also benefit as commuters choose to buy a bike or snap up bike accessories in a bid to beat the travel commotion.
Brompton Bicycle told bike industry title Bike Biz that it is expecting an increase in sales and hires around the capital over the next few days.
But retailers will be hoping that the RMI and TFL come to an agreement before the second planned strike, this time for 72 hours, is set to go ahead on May 5.