Covid is fast-tracking us into the future – leader comment

The pain of job cuts by major retailers is sharp and we must quickly rise to new challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak and the shift to online shopping.

Marks and Spencer has announced thousands of job cuts (Picture: John Devlin)
Marks and Spencer has announced thousands of job cuts (Picture: John Devlin)

The decision by Marks & Spencer to axe 7,000 jobs over the next few months is the latest in a string of bleak announcements by giants of the British high street. But the scale of cuts by such a household name may strike fear into the hearts of some, given the knock-on effects of so many lost livelihoods on the wider economy and the prospect of more bad news to come as the UK government’s furlough scheme comes to an end in October.

However, fear is part of our natural response to danger – the trick is to avoid being paralysed by it and instead harness the energy it can bring to make the changes necessary to prosper in these difficult times. As one financial expert pointed out, the coronavirus outbreak has “super-accelerated” changes to the retail sector and other businesses that were already taking place with the rise of online shopping. A faster pace means the pain – in the form of job losses and store closures – is likely to be sharper but, hopefully, will not last as long.

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Marks & Spencer: Retail company to cut 7,000 jobs

The world is changing before our eyes. Things looked very different for Edinburgh’s landmark St James development just a few months ago and its vision for the future of the east end of the city will have to be re-imagined in some way before it opens next year. Despite already planning to move more towards leisure pursuits, such as cafes, restaurants and a cinema, the developers will be wondering whether enough is being done to tempt online shoppers back to the city centre.

Many retailers, high streets and even whole towns and cities will need to come up with innovative ways to adapt to survive. Town centres may need to become places of entertainment as much as commerce to lure potential customers away from their laptops. And businesses, even local ones, need to make sure they are taking full advantage of the ability to sell to anywhere in the world – making access to superfast broadband across the whole of Scotland even more important. It is, therefore, welcome news that the Scottish Government has unveiled a scheme enabling people to apply for up to £5,000 to get a connection.

Local trade may continue to diminish but if this can be offset by online sales, that could offer a way for shops and other businesses to maintain a presence on the high street, helping to preserve a focal point for communities.

We live in worrying times. But, rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the challenges we now face, we must rise to them.

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