Mind the Gap, but it won't be the last shop to close - Kevin Buckle
Gap’s announcement that it would be closing all 81 of its physical stores in the UK and Ireland to concentrate on an online presence will leave another empty store on Princes Street and one that can’t be blamed on the St James Quarter.
Retail experts say it failed to distinguish itself from other brands, failed to adapt, had too many sales and too many shops but of course the predominant factor is the relentless rise of online shopping.
It is completely understandable that virtually all retailers of women’s clothing originally misjudged the impact of online sales as it was felt there would be an overriding need to try the clothes on. Add in the fact most found shopping enjoyable and while it was easy to see why other sectors would suffer, clothing was considered by some to be almost immune.
Of course now anybody who has ever queued in a post office behind a small army of younger women with their free returns will know that things have turned out very different indeed.
I didn’t know until I read a history of Gap that it started out only selling Levi’s and records and I’m surprised given the revival in vinyl they didn’t give that one last shot before deciding to close.
Currently shops console themselves with the fact that those who visit but leave empty-handed may then go on to order online instead but from the figures I have seen this is more of a hope than a reality. Certainly shops can play their part in the sale of bulkier items online but it is hard to believe shoppers do this in any great numbers for clothing.
Overheads for many of these clothing shops are huge and while the St James Quarter has admitted to lowering rents it is hard these days for any brand to sustain sales on a weekly basis and the days of times that were so good they more than made up for the quiet times are long gone. As one wag said about the St James Quarter – it’s OK now but can they do it on a cold, rainy day in February.
Gap won’t be the last business to close in the city centre by any means and the question really is how many more will follow and add to the dozens of shops already empty. It is thought that the picture will be clearer after Christmas and certainly that seems a reasonable assumption but whatever happens the situation is already dire enough for plans to be made now
At the moment with the furlough scheme due to end soon and business rates becoming a factor next year even the most optimistic of retailers can’t be sure of their position in 12 months’ time.
I do still think in the longer term hospitality will recover far quicker than retail. People may now choose to eat more at home than go out for meals, and those who continue to work from home will no longer need to grab lunch, but so long as visitors return to Edinburgh in the numbers seen previously hospitality will in general recover well.
Retail, however, was already progressively receiving a smaller share of visitor spending and that I fear will continue.