According to analysts, 2020 was the worst year in over 25 years for the High Street as the pandemic catalysed the move towards shopping online.
The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) says that job losses in the retail sector for 2020 were up by almost 25% on 2019. Just under 180,000 people working in retail in the UK lost their job during the year.
The CRR warns that the trend will continue into 2021 as retailers offload staff due to cashflow issues, estimating some 200,000 jobs in retail to be at risk over the next year.
Director at the CRR, Professor Joshua Bamfield, said that the forecast was founded on "the cumulative effects of months of closure and its impact upon cash flow and rent arrears that will be payable when the moratorium ends.
"Whilst the longer-term effects of the greater use by shoppers of all kinds of online retailing is likely to be hugely damaging for physical stores," Bamfield added.
Many major brands fell into administration over the year, slashing thousands of jobs in the process.
Market analyst at Hargreaves Landsdown, Susannah Streeter, said the lockdowns over 2020 alone couldn't "be blamed for the collapse of household names. It merely accelerated the shift to digital.
"Debenhams has been the key anchor store in city centres for decades, but fell behind fashion trends, whilst locked into long leases with rising rents with underperforming online sales.
"Topshop was still the leader of the High Street fashion pack a decade ago, but underinvestment in e-commerce and social media, saw it leapfrogged by savvy online rivals like Boohoo and Asos."
The High Street was on the decline even before the pandemic, but several months of restrictions have accelerated its fall, with some analysts claiming that the shift to online shopping has been brought forward by five to ten years.
Mrs Streeter says that high street retailers have to improve their in-store experience if they are to win back customers once the pandemic is over.
"Department stores can still thrive, if they provide the experience the customer craves. Items like footwear can be very difficult to get right online," she said.
"However, shopping needs to be an enjoyable pastime, not a bun fight amid vast racks of clothes. Reducing retail footprints, while investing in the appeal of an exciting in store and online seamless experience will be key to attracting newer younger customers."
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