Monday, April 19News For London

Shoppers hit Oxford Street as lockdown lifts

Busy store front in Oxford Circus| Photo Credit: Anjali

Coronavirus restrictions have had an enormous impact on our daily lives; from jobs to consumer habits and social distancing, businesses and individuals are continuously adapting to survive the lockdown/tier system cycle. 

The clothing retail market has experienced economic impact across the scale – from businesses increasingly relying on online sales, to some going into administration. The hospitality sector has suffered too, and currently operates under restrictions to support social distancing. 

Tier 2, the category London is in, does not include restrictions on clothing retailers re-opening since the latest lockdown was lifted last week. Shops like Primark kept some of their branches open through Thursday night. On Friday shopping districts like Oxford Circus experienced high volumes of shoppers. On Saturday, crowds stormed Harrods in London as it opened, leading to four arrests.

Tier 2 guidelines state that ‘retail businesses and premises must ensure that they operate in a covid-19-secure manner’. In practice this saw dozens of shoppers queuing outside shops like Zara, H&M and Apple, to enable social distancing inside shops. But with large numbers of shoppers pouring out to buy goods they were unable to buy during lockdown, as well as Christmas shoppers, social distancing outside stores on the high street and in shopping centres proved unfeasible. 

Closing sale at Topshop, Oxford Circus | Photo Credit: Anjali

Digital monopolies and liquidation

Throughout 2020, consumers have taken to online shopping more than ever resulting in a huge boost for online businesses like Amazon. Retailers with a weak digital presence suffered, some to the point of liquidation. Most recently the Arcadia Group, which owns the shops Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge, went into administration putting thousands of jobs at risk. 

Clothing stylist and sustainable fashion activist, Hulan Surnai, spoke to Westminster World about the effects of online retail in the fashion industry: “Even before coronavirus struck, with the growth of fast-fashion online, businesses like Asos and Boohoo were already beginning to win the target audiences of businesses like Debenhams and Arcadia Group, with their lower prices and stronger social media presence.” 

 Hulan Surnai: “The coronavirus pandemic has made the large retail distributing companies like Amazon stronger, whilst many smaller businesses like a health lifestyle company I worked to build, have broken down, unable to make ends meet.”

Hospitality rules return

Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants are currently subject to rules in London under Tier 2: they ‘can only serve alcohol with substantial meals’, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm (excluding take-away). These restrictions hinder such businesses to operate to their fullest, affecting revenue, workers and customer experience. 

There has been some harsh criticism of the difference in rules enforced by the government for retail versus hospitality, particularly on social media. Whilst others, like members of the public Westminster World spoke to, expressed a more optimistic perspective. 

Shay, a young man shopping in Oxford street on Friday, told Westminster World: “I always like to stay positive, as we’re lucky enough to go in there [restaurants] and eat. At least we can still go into restaurants and order food, and do what we can to support local businesses.” 

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Restaurant goers flood China town on Saturday night | Photo Credit: Ningjing Fan

Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Manchester, criticised the rules, tweeting yesterday, alongside an image of a crowded high street: “24-hour retail. Closed hospitality. You’re right, it makes no sense”. 

Sally, who currently works at a restaurant in London’s West End, Olle Korean Barbeque, spoke to Westminster Worldabout how the lockdown and latest restrictions have affected her employment: 

“The restaurant is a well-known Korean joint, so we still get fully booked over the weekend but during the day has been less busy.” Sally went on to say that finding the job wasn’t easy, and that the restaurant has stopped recruiting new staff amid the uncertainty the business feels as a social venue amidst a pandemic. Sally added, “As we work an hour less [because we must shut an hour earlier than normal due to the current restrictions], the profits we would make on tables in that hour is now cut.”

A new normal?

This week’s scenes in spaces like London’s Chinatown is a reflection of what social animals we are; queues outside restaurants saw friends wait for hours in the cold to enjoy a meal together. 

The Tier 2 rule, which bans out-of-household mixing in venues like restaurants, was of little concern to the individuals within the groups Westminster World spoke to, who were from different households waiting in line to dine together. The hospitality industry is desperate for this post-lockdown boost.

The many months of physical shutdown has resulted in an increase in online consumerism; for shops with little brand awareness online this has been hugely damaging. The pandemic has seen the share of the online space shifting in favour of large businesses like Amazon and Alibaba. 

Clothing stylist and fashion activist, Hulan Surnai, said: “I would urge shoppers to buy directly from retailers where they can – small businesses in particular.  When fashion labels put their products on sites like Amazon, the consumer experience of the brand is completely lost, hurting the brand’s survival in the long run and resulting in new, smaller businesses having no choice but to pay fees to platforms like Amazon in return for online exposure and sales.” 

Video Credit: Anjali, Atoosa Gitiforoz and Ningjing Fan