The fashion retailers whose stores disappeared from our high streets in 2020
After a pretty lacklustre Christmas 2019 for many, high street fashion and lifestyle retailers across the UK started 2020 facing tough conditions as customer confidence was fragile and the shift to online shopping was accelerating.
However no-one could have predicted the level of turmoil in store for the high street, which was to be brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Temporary closures, social distancing and plummeting tourist numbers, all weighed heavily on the UK's towns and cities.
A raft of retailers cut jobs, closed stores and secured restructuring deals to survive. However, for some, none of these measures were sufficient to preserve their place on the high street.
Here are some of biggest fashion and lifestyle names to have disappeared from our high streets altogether.
The health, beauty and baby products chain was the year’s first major casualty, shutting the doors of its UK stores for good after 59 years.
Mothercare’s UK business collapsed with the loss of 2,500 jobs and 79 stores after failing to secure a rescue deal.
The company underwent a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) restructuring in 2018, shutting a raft of stores, but tumbled into administration a year later after failing to turn around its fortunes.
Mothercare still sells its products in the UK through Boots stores and has a franchise operation overseas.
The 139-year-old department store chain opened its doors for the final time in March, as the pandemic started to have an impact on retailers.
Beales tumbled into administration at the start of the year, announcing plans to shut 12 of its 23 outlets, as talks with potential buyers faltered.
The Bournemouth-based company employed approximately 1,050 people before announcing its first closures.
However, the coronavirus crisis speeded its demise, with the group shutting its final stores weeks earlier than planned after the outbreak meant sales took a nosedive.
The retro-inspired retailer tumbled into administration in April after a downturn in profitability.
The company closed all of its 60 UK stores, with the loss of 900 jobs, as the pandemic proved to be the final straw.
Months later, it said it had secured new funding from parent company Baring Private Equity Asia to return as an online-only operation.
However, the brand made a small high street comeback earlier this month following the rescue deal.
The group reopened its flagship store in London’s Piccadilly ahead of Christmas, although it said it was an “experiential” store to showcase products it will sell online.
Formal menswear sales dived after the pandemic struck, weighing on already troubled retailer TM Lewin.
Early in 2020, the company was bought by Stonebridge Private Equity through its subsidiary Torque Brands.
Just two months later, the new owners revealed plans to close the 122-year-old firm’s entire network of 66 shops, with the loss of around 600 jobs.
The group said it was switching all sales to the internet in a bid to save the brand in the post-Covid retail environment.
Oasis and Warehouse
More than 1,800 jobs were lost after sister fashion chains Oasis and Warehouse said they would not reopen any of their stores again in April.
The Oasis Warehouse group, which had 92 branches and 437 concessions at department stores, had been owned by failed Icelandic bank Kaupthing.
Administrators for Kaupthing attempted to dispose of the brands in 2017 but held on after failing to secure a buyer.
In 2020, the brands themselves needed administrators and wound up their retail store business after failing to find last-minute suitors.
Nevertheless, the brands have had a new lease of life online after Boohoo bought them to sell through its website later in the year.
Footwear retailer Oliver Sweeney shuttered all its stores for good after hiring administrators during the summer.
The company closed its five stores, in London, Manchester and Leeds, but said it would continue to operate online.
Chief executive Tim Cooper said he would continue to lead the business, adding that he was “disappointed” about the store closures but was “confident” about shifting the group online.
Plus-size clothing brand Evans became the first in the Arcadia stable to be bought out of retail giant’s administration process earlier this month.
However, the group’s £23 million takeover by Australian group City Chic Collective did not include its bricks and mortar business.
As a result, Evans said it would not reopen its five remaining UK stores.
The deal will also raise questions over whether other Arcadia brands, such as Topshop, Miss Selfridge, Wallis, Burton and Dorothy Perkins, could also have online-only futures and disappear from the high street for good.
Who will be next?
Many retail brands had a tough 2020 and entered insolvency without yet disappearing from our streets for good. However, retail analysts have predicted that some of these debt-laden companies could fade away soon.
Debenhams is expected to cease trading for its final time in the new year, saying it will shut all its stores by March at the latest unless a remarkable rescue deal is secured.
The company is currently going through liquidation and selling off stock after talks with JD Sports over a potential deal collapsed earlier this month. Mike Ashley's Frasers Group was in last-minute talks to save some of the business, while other retailers were hovering over some its sites, but the longer it takes to secure a deal, the less likely it seems.
As well as Arcadia (see Evans above), another large retail group, Edinburgh Woollen Mill had a torrid 2020 as older consumers and tourists, which made up the bulk of its consumers, stayed at home. Its flagship brand was placed into administration and began shutting its stores, while Jaeger and Peacocks have both collapsed and are searching for buyers.
With much of the country under lockdown conditions and more regions expected to be added while the UK's mass vaccination programme gets underway, the first quarter of 2021, at least, is expected to be torrid. Further physical retail casualties seem highly likely. But disaster for some provides opportunity for others and a new look high street will begin to emerge as the year unfolds.