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On a deserted Oxford Street, department stores are downsizing

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

10 Mar 2021

Retail

London’s West End, in particular the shopping thoroughfare of Oxford Street, Soho and Mayfair, was, in pre-covid times, a haven for shoppers and fashion. But not anymore. With stores closed and a retail industry facing unsurmountable pressures, the UK’s world-class shopping destination is under threat. Oxford Street is perennially empty, with key players like Topshop now boarded up.

For customers, there is little reason to visit

Currently nearly 20 percent of Oxford Street has shuttered stores which will not reopen. The street remains at a standstill putting the pressure on revamping public spaces to be less reliant on retail.

Surviving stores are downsizing, including John Lewis, which is transforming nearly half of its flagship store to office space. The department store was given the green light by Westminster Council last October to change the usage of the space from its 3rd to 8th floors. The revamp would leave retail covering most of the basement, ground, first and second floors with options for flexible use the upper floors.

The now shuttered Debenhams, a stone’s throw from John Lewis, also received planning permission to revamp its fourth and fifth floors flagship into offices last year.

Marks and Spencer on Wednesday said it would follow a similar path. It plans to convert its upper floors to offices, which would enable it to unlock additional value to support its transformation programme as it looks to create a store estate that is “fit for the future”.

Sacha Berendji, M&S’s retail, property & operations director, said: “The launch of our proposal to redevelop Marble Arch today is the latest example of how we are shifting gears in creating a store estate fit for the future. Under our Never the Same Again programme we are focused on emerging stronger from the pandemic, and today’s proposal not only means we can redevelop and modernise our store so that it better serves the local community on the UK’s destination high street, but by taking an assertive approach to the management of our asset base we can unlock additional value from the site at the same time and further support our transformation.”

The future of Oxford Street

Relying less on retail, the makeup of Oxford Street could include technology giants such as Netflix, Google or Snapchat wanting to open “experiential” stores to showcase their brands, Sam Foyle, co-head of prime global retail team at property consultancy Savills, told Business Day. The Apple store on adjacent Regent Street is one of the company’s busiest in the world. For luxury shoppers, Bond Street and Mayfair will remain the main destination.

Image: Oxford Street via New West End Company