The Workers Union has urged Britain to ‘think creatively’ about high street retail.
In a statement released this morning, a spokesperson for the organisation said: ‘Recent job losses amongst big-brand retailers have hit working people hard. Retail is a part of our economy that has seen seismic changes in the last 15 years. Major names have disappeared, while others have been forced to take their operations online to compete with market disruptors. The tragedy is that with more foresight and imagination, the worst effects of this situation could have been ameliorated.’
The union’s statement came after supermarket giant Tesco announced that it planned to put 1,600 jobs at risk of redundancy. The move will see overnight replenishment end in some stores, as well as the closure of ‘Jack’s’ – a discount brand originally conceived as a rival to budget retailers such as Lidl and Aldi.
Tesco plans to shift stock replenishment to the daytime in 36 of its major stores and a further 49 convenience stores. 37 petrol stations will also move to automated pay-at-the-pump systems.
The Workers Union Says
While big out-of-town retailers are changing the way that they operate, the story for the high street has been one of decline and closure rather than evolution. Town centres have been hit hard by online retail and the general perception that convenience is more important than physical browsing.
In 2021, the government announced a commendable plan to arrest the decline of the high street by funding community regeneration projects such as repurposing empty shops and creating new public spaces. The announcement was underpinned with a ‘15 Town Deal’ funded by a £335 million cash pot.
However, the focus is more on regeneration than sustaining established businesses. This is understandable, but will come as no consolation for working people who find themselves affected by the “bonfire of the brands.”
But there is some light at the end of tunnel. If businesses look to provide “experiences” to their customers, then there’s a chance that the advantages of a friendly face and an opportunity to browse physical products can make a difference. It is no longer enough to sell – selling must be seen as a consequence of rapport, rather than the sole motive of customer interaction. At the same time, the government must consider the role of business tax in throttling an already hard-pressed sector. Without reform, bricks and mortar retailers will always be behind the 8-ball when it comes to competing with e-commerce.
In the final analysis, high streets provide jobs, money and development opportunities and are a litmus test of the health of our large centres of population. It is well past time that we had a nuanced debate about what we can do to ensure their survival.