Two subjects are head and shoulders above all others in retail currently - and death is not one of them
Up until Friday morning there had been around 25 “Comments” published on this website over the past fortnight, or thereabouts. And a quick count reveals a salient fact - around 80% of the comments really only cover two subjects - online/etail and business rates.
This, in itself, is not entirely surprising. Rates carry the seeds of possible destruction for many and the perception among an almost equally numerous group of ‘legacy’ retailers is that etail may have a similar effect. But does this single-minded focus on just two topics mean there is nothing else on the retail horizon at the moment?
Well, possibly. Starting with rates, the seemingly relentless upward pressure is perhaps the biggest hurdle placed in front of retailers struggling to keep stores viable and it’s something over which they have no control. It costs enough to keep your stores looking like the kind of places that cash-strapped shoppers would want to wander into, but there are ways and means of achieving this without rupturing the unfortunate camel. This can’t be said of UBR.
And what about etail? The stampede towards multi-channel activity has been a feature of the last year with players as diverse as Marks & Spencer and Burberry in the vanguard. Most of those engaged in this have large store portfolios, but the perception is that if they don’t join the e-party all will be lost. Perhaps it will, although Comet’s problems possibly stem from a lack of investment in the real rather than the virtual world.
So what’s missing from the great retail topics of the day, or have the pundits covered everything with their bi-subject approach? International expansion was given relatively short shrift, with only one person writing about it and, well, store interiors and design were also part of the mix. The argument however has to be that most other areas are contingent upon an organisation’s ability to divert monies into funding them and this won’t be possible if the revenue continues to tighten the garrote around the throat of UK retail.
On this analysis, an almost total concentration on business rates is understandable, although the e-focus may just be being overplayed. There are certainly other issues that should be considered, with merchandising, overseas expansion and maybe branding among them. But it seems unlikely that any of these will be given much headroom while enterprises continue to be threatened by broadly inequitable business rates.
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