In one of the UK high street’s rockiest-ever months, a new play for physical space by the e-commerce giant Amazon and an experimental format from Waitrose point to the ways in which the much-afflicted UK retail sector is reacting.

Amazon, the US company that largely popularised e-commerce in the UK, having launched its site in 1998, is reportedly reclaiming the high streets that it is blamed for damaging, according to the Guardian.  

Titled ‘Clicks and Mortar’, the company will introduce a partnership with small business network Enterprise Nation, with the intent of giving a physical presence to online-only sellers who have never before had a physical presence. Among these small brands are the scooter makers Swifty, device case firm Torro cases, and a men’s grooming brand, Altr.

It’s not Amazon’s first foray into UK retail, with the opening of a pop-up fashion store in October of last year in London’s Baker Street. Additionally, Whole Foods, which it bought in 2017 for almost $14bn, has seven sites in London.

“Amazon is committed to supporting the growth of small businesses, helping them boost the economy and create jobs across the UK. Small businesses are one of our most important customer groups”, said Doug Gurr, the company’s UK country manager.

The news of Amazon’s entry to the UK’s diminished high streets comes as KPMG’s Retail Sales Monitor indicated that May retail sales suffered the “biggest decline on record.”

Overall, sales decreased by 2.7% in May, Retail Gazette reported, versus the same period last year, which saw an increase of 4.1%.

The picture is complex however. Online sales continued to grow (1.5%) but far slower than last year (11.5%). It is a picture of an increasingly mature e-commerce market, as growth slows but penetration increases: this year to 30.3% up from a penetration of 28.2% in May 2018.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Council, told Retail Gazette that May was a month of political and economic uncertainty ; “food sales dropped for the first time since June 2016, with further declines in clothing, footwear and outdoor goods.”  She called on politicians to do more. But also pointed to other conditions: “Business rates remain a barrier, preventing many retailers from investing in their physical space.”

In stark contrast, Amazon’s minimal retail presence has allowed it to avoid some of the harsher rate rises. This year, for instance, the online giant paid just £63.4m in business rates, nearly £40m less than Next, the high street retailer, despite raking in double the revenues.

Elsewhere, Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership’s supermarket chain announced that it would start trialling packaging-free refills in its Oxford branch, a reaction to the growing need to reduce single-use plastics and an effort to reduce the retail sector’s footprint on the environment.  

Sourced from The Guardian, Retail Gazette; additional content by WARC staff