The fall of Arcadia: what does it mean for the future of the high street?

The high street is changing. There’s no question. Predictions suggest over 18,000 high street premises could be left empty by the end of the year, while mainstays like high street banks are estimated to close their doors a final time by summer 2032.

The announced administration of the Arcadia group should come as no surprise in the current climate. The pandemic has sent earthquake-scale tremors through our shops and retailers. But in spite of this, there has to be some shock in the industry – after all, Arcadia, and many of the other fallen businesses, are and were huge entities. So how do businesses with such apparent strength fall with such devastating impact?

The answer lies in technology. Technology has underpinned many of the world’s greatest advancements but in retail, take up of advancements has been slow enough to shake the foundations of some of our most loved stores and leave them weak and vulnerable.

The collapse of the Arcadia group is systematic to an organisation that has failed to grasp the opportunities of technology, especially of online. The pandemic may have spearheaded online shopping’s growth, but consumers have been shopping online – or using bricks and mortar stores as ‘showrooms’ to then buy online – for years. And while stores like Primark have done well with no online presence, they have a very different value-based proposition which means it’s worth the trip to the shop to rummage through the aisles – whereas the premium products that Arcadia Group sells can make people think twice about the effort when better deals are available online.

Arcadia would have always been heading into a red territory regardless of Covid-19 due to their lack of online penetration.

Then there’s the growing movement to shop small and shop local. This, of course, is a positive movement that supports fledgling and growing brands. But it’s also a movement that puts big businesses in an even weaker position. In order to thrive in 2021 and beyond, retailers will need to consider not just their investment in technology to facilitate convenience, but in their wider values and how they support communities and initiatives that benefit the world. Focuses on environmentalism (without ‘greenwashing’) and sustainability will play an even greater role in the year to come.

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