Leader: Mega headache for the high streets

THESE are challenging times for retailers. Yesterday, ahead of “Mega Monday”, when a record £303 million is set to be spent on Visa cards during the busiest online shopping day before Christmas, retail tycoon Sir Philip Green announced that Arcadia is to close up to 260 stores over the next few years.

Fashion brands are facing the most severe conditions for decades. But retailers are having to cope, not just with huge cyclical pressures on high street spending caused by the economic downturn but a sweeping structural change in the way that we shop. High street shops may be wilting – but online shopping, albeit at a slower pace, continues to grow. This is what is forcing an epochal change in high streets, with small traders squeezed out and food and convenience stores increasingly evident – alongside the charity shops.

At the same time, major department stores in shopping malls are having to adapt through “multi-channel retailing” – shopping through stores, internet websites, mobile phones and catalogues. Many stores are now offering internet browsing within their outlets. Time-stretched, as well as well cash-strapped, consumers find this more convenient and puts more choice at their fingertips. It is a profound change retailers ignore at their peril.