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Could high streets become more independent because of Covid-19?

With big chains closing stores, is there opportunity for smaller players?

Covid-19 is having a terminal impact on many high street chains.

Household names are closing stores in every corner of the country, leaving already struggling high streets even more empty. But within this gloom, some light appears.

There are some signs that small, independent businesses could fill these gaps. So, could Covid-19 help high streets to become more independent and vibrant in the long term?

How the mighty have fallen

High street chains have been suffering for a while, with the UK economy a little stagnant for the last few years. But of course, Covid-19 has massively accelerated the decline for many.

The list of closures feels almost endless. M&Co is closing 47 stores, TM Lewin is closing all of its stores, and Monsoon is closing 35 stores. Oasis and warehouse have completely collapsed, Debenhams have closed nearly 40 stores and Cath Kidston will now be online only.

These are just a selection picked at random. There are dozens across multiple sectors, and many more will follow in the coming months.

Furthermore, for many chains that are surviving, the outlook is extremely unnerving. Many have said they wouldn’t survive another full-scale lockdown, and almost all retailers that don’t have a significant and profitable online presence will struggle to survive in any form.

So what happens next? Will high streets simply remain empty?

Learn from Lidl

A pandemic and an accompanying recession might not seem the ideal time to try to grow a business. But actually, for those brave enough, times like these can offer enormous opportunities.

Lidl made its mark in the UK during the 2008 recession. As other brands struggled and spaces appeared, often at cut-rate prices, Lidl swooped in – and the rest is history. The current crisis offers hope to those brave enough and capable enough of taking advantage.

In May, it was reported that during the first months of the pandemic, sales at independent grocery stores had grown by 63% across the UK. That’s an incredible increase, and is part of a wider trend some experts have labelled ‘localism’.

With less commuting to city centres, more remote working and a greater degree of focus on local high streets, many consumers have fallen back in love with their nearby shops. And they’ve shown a keen interest in supporting small businesses.

Indeed, while footfalls in city centre high streets have plummeted, they’ve been much more resilient in regional towns.

Fortune favours the brave

Whatever happens in the future in relation to Covid-19, it’s expected that some of our new working habits and shopping behaviours will remain.

We will all shop online more, but we are also likely to really care about our local high streets. That’s because we will be far more likely to spend time working at home or nearer to our homes.

Independent businesses on these regional high streets will appeal to this need for ‘localism’. So small businesses who can survive this crisis, or better still, take advantage of the opportunities arising, could reap the benefits in the future.

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