How Will The Changing High Street Affect Our Personal Ethics?

As you may have heard over recent weeks, the UK high street is set to evolve drastically after the existing Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted- just off of the top of my head I can name three prominent high street stores which are set to vanish from our town centres. It can be argued that Covid-19 has been an accelerative factor in our changing high street, although there have been multiple issues which have affected the viability of some high street stores over recent years.

Image: Royalty Free.

This has caused me to think… will the changes in ownership of some of our favourite stores clash with our personal ethics? In particular, this is in relation to the news that online retailer Boohoo (who have had their fair share of ethical issues) bought the Debenhams brand and website in a £55m deal in January of this year. Although this appears to be positive news- a brand which has a rich history in UK retail has been given a lifeline to continue trading- there are some negative aspects of this deal, especially in terms of consumer ethics and morals. As an example, Boohoo have faced multiple ethical issues- especially in terms of social issues, including workers’ rights and working conditions, and environmental issues such as encouraging the ‘throw away culture’ associated with fast fashion. Their undesirable brand ethics and reluctance to address such issues has caused Good On You to give them a ‘Very Poor’ rating.

Arguably, Debenhams’ change of ownership could cause consumers to face an ethical dilemma- especially those consumers who have been loyal to Debenhams, a brand which has not been associated with multiple ethical issues historically, but have ethical standards which clash with those of Boohoo. Is the acquisition of Debenhams itself and the transition to operating fully online an example of unethical behaviour in itself? The switch to online for Debenhams has caused 12,000 people to lose their jobs. This is not an exceptional case- another prominent high street store, Topshop, was recently acquired by Asos, a fully online clothing retailer. This case study mirrors that of Boohoo’s acquisition of Debenhams, whereby all remaining Topshop stores are due to close, causing 2,500 employees to lose their jobs.

On the flip side to all of this, it could be argued that the acquisition of these brands by dominant online retailers Asos and Boohoo has been significant in preserving the life of high street brands which would have otherwise been lost in history. Therefore, despite the ethical issues that Boohoo have faced, which may concern existing customers of Debenhams, overall the change in ownership can be seen as positive. Furthermore, these two examples could be seen as a stepping stone for the revolution of retail in the UK- this is evidenced by Asos’ strong plans for the Topshop brand, as illustrated in the below Tweet sent upon news of their acquisition of the Aracadia brands.

Online retailer Asos has big plans for Topshop, a prominent high street store which will now be fully online. Image: Twitter.

Only time will tell, after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, as to how successful the online shopping environment will be and how this influences consumers’ shopping behaviour. In my experience, I would argue that after being unable to physically shop on the high street and visiting town centres as a result of Covid-19 restrictions for the best part of a year, I will feel more inclined to visit the high street once it is safe to do so as I often find it a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience compared with shopping online. An increase in high street popularity in the near future does also present an opportunity for small and local businesses to thrive- supporting local and small businesses has been all the more important during the lockdowns in England. Although, as consumers, we have been made all too aware of the ease of online shopping, which begs the question, will online retailers’ acquisition of big features of our high street, like Debenhams, be sustainable, or will this in fact put these brands at risk later on if our shopping habits revert to being primarily in town centres?

I would love to hear your opinions on this- do you think we will be more dependent on the internet as our primary shopping source or do you think high street popularity will soar after Covid-19?

Thank you for reading!

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