The divergent fortunes of retailers in the pandemic have been stark. Online-only players have thrived as have the big supermarkets – Tesco is able to return £5 billion to shareholders and put £2.5 billion into its pension pot, albeit thanks to the completion of the sale of its Asian business.
“It’s hard to imagine any high street retailer showing such largesse. Against this backdrop, research commissioned by Primark and produced by consultancy Public First is essentially calling for the Government to step in and save physical retail – citing public support for a rejuvenation of town centres and high streets.
“Shops are in a desperate battle to salvage Christmas following the end of the most recent lockdown measures in England and you can understand the argument for the state to help.
“After all the Government intervened to bolster the property market with a VAT holiday and looked to save hospitality with its Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
“Given physical retail faces more acute structural challenges than either of these sectors, you could argue that any intervention would be the equivalent of tilting at windmills or King Canute ordering the tide to halt.
“Primark clearly has skin in the game given it has no presence on the web and its argument that there hasn’t been an acceleration to online retail in the pandemic should probably be seen in this context.
“That said the country does face the question of what happens next to its potentially hollowed out high streets and what will replace the mounting number of jobs lost in physical retail.”