A second national lockdown means a collapse in footfall on English high streets at what should be the busiest time of the year – and accelerates the need for those retailers who survive to the new year to rethink and diversify their offering.

According to Springboard, footfall across England will be down 78.8% for the four planned weeks of lockdown between November 5 and December 2; high streets will be hit hardest, with an 87.3% decline, Retail Week noted.

“The previous lockdown cost ‘non-essential’ shops £1.6bn a week in lost sales,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson. “Now that we are entering the all-important Christmas shopping period, these losses are certain to be much bigger.”

Shoppers will inevitably shift their attention online and those retailers that have invested in their online operations will benefit. The costs involved can be prohibitive for small stores; but, for some there are alternatives emerging.

Yesterday saw the UK launch of Bookshop.org, which claims to be an alternative to Amazon for “socially conscious online shoppers”. The online platform works as a marketplace for independent bookshops and returns the full profit margin on each sale; at 30%, that’s rather more than existing set-ups such as Hive.co.uk, run by publisher Gardners.

Welcome as such initiatives are, they are hardly going to be enough to challenge the dominance of the likes of Amazon. If the high street is going to remain relevant, says Marcos Angelides, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer, Spark Foundry, it will ultimately have to offer a wider omnichannel shopping experience, one in which the old brick-and-mortar metric of sales per square foot is imagined in new ways.

Like orders per square foot, for example: reframing stores as a physical extension of the online experience works for a number of reasons, he suggests.

“For sales teams, it is the closest model to what they already know. You’re just replacing instore sales with instore orders, plus you have the benefit of not having to house stock on site.

“From a customer point of view, it becomes the physical manifestation of their online journey, but with the added benefit of expert advice from human staff (not just crappy bots), as well as a tactile connection to real products.”

While the logic of focusing on experiences to revitalise the high street appears sound (for more on the idea of ‘experience stores’, read Marcos Angelides’ article in full: Experience per square foot: How experience stores could save high street retail in the UK), retailers have to first simply get to next month still trading. For some that will be a big ask.

Sourced from Retail Week, Retail Gazette, WARC