Thursday, 27 November 2008

Woolworths and MFI Collapse: Is This the End of the High Street?

THE TELEGRAPH: As Woolworths and MFI go into administration, Gordon Rayner delivers a stark warning to the retail world: adapt or die

In the space of just 40 minutes last night, Britain's high streets changed forever with the announcements that Woolworths and MFI, two famous names with 144 years of history between them, had gone into administration.

Woolies, founded in 1909, had survived the Great Depression, two world wars and several recessions, but even with a price tag of just £1 for its 820 stores, there was no way back from the Crash of 2008.

Meanwhile, retail giants including Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and House of Fraser have started slashing prices weeks before Christmas in a desperate attempt to reverse their plunging sales figures. The collapse of more than a dozen other retail chains in the past few months, including Rosebys, SCS, Ilva and New Heights, has left no doubt that this is, for many companies, a fight to the death.

And all this comes at a time when shops traditionally record their biggest profits of the year; no one in the retail industry wants to contemplate what will happen in January and February, when the pre‑Christmas spending splurge is over.

One thing is for sure: according to every economic forecast, 2009 will be even worse than 2008 for retailers as the credit crunch and rising unemployment drive down sales. Town centre stores are also under attack like never before from supermarkets and internet shopping, and many more of them are likely to fail in the months ahead.

Are we, in fact, witnessing the death of the high street as we know it? Will our town centre stores become boarded-up relics of bygone times, while we all stay at home hunting online bargains or drive to shiny, soulless shopping malls with their own motorway junction? >>> By Gordon Rayner | November 26, 2008

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