Coronavirus crisis 'will accelerate demise of the high street'

Mornings with Jackie Brambles

BBC Radio Scotland

Shoppes in face coverings in Edinburgh's Princes Street
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A longstanding trend of people moving towards online shopping will only increase as a result of the coronavirus crisis, says Scott Corfe, research director at Social Market Foundation.

Even before the crisis the high street was "in deep trouble", he tells BBC Radio Scotland, with 16% of shops across the UK vacant.

A decade ago, we bought fewer than 7% of things online, but last year that figure was just under 20%, with the latest retail sales data showing about £1 in every £3 is spent online

"What you’re seeing is the coronavirus crisis accelerating the demise of the high street," says Mr Corfe. "A lot of people are changing their behaviour, possibly on a permanent basis."

With fewer people going to the high street, retailers must be willing to change and adapt, he says, optimising their online presence and offering "more of an experience", such as shops with cafes.

More empty retail outlets could be converted into quality housing in town and city centres, Mr Corfe suggests.

If we have more homes in our city centres, we can actually support the shops that are there and perhaps bring back more of a café culture in our open spaces.”

Scott CorfeSocial Market Foundation

'People have been very respectful' on return to shopping

Mornings with Jackie Brambles

BBC Radio Scotland

Two shoppers in face coverings
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Rosey Barnet, owner of Shearer Candles in Glasgow, says people have "been very respectful of one another" as they adapt to a new way of shopping.

"They’re not browsing too long if they think someone else is waiting," she tells BBC Radio Scotland.

"We've reconfigured the shop, we've got a one-way system and we've developed our own hand sanitizer – which is one of the main things that kept us in production over this period."

Ms Barnet says her business continued online during lockdown, but as fragrant products are popular, people prefer to test them in person.

"You can’t smell them online, so people will come in to try them," she adds. "We have to be very careful and only have one sample out at the time. Then we take it away and dust things down.

"Making customers feel welcome is also a big deal, but it's important to observe rules and make sure people feel there is no pressure on them."