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Has the death of physical retail been over-exaggerated?
Has the death of physical retail stores been over-exaggerated? Investment bank Morgan Stanley believes they could make a comeback after lockdown ends, based on the findings of its survey of 1,000 people conducted in May which suggests that many consumers are missing in-store shopping for clothing.
High street and shopping centre footfall last week surged 51% compared to the week before, as more shops were permitted to reopen, according to retail consultant Springboard. However, visitor numbers are still well down on pre-lockdown conditions which suggests the near-term could be tough for fashion sellers with physical shops and for shopping centre landlords.
The Morgan Stanley survey suggests almost 60% of clothing spend in the UK is traditionally driven by activities likely to be impacted by ongoing social distancing measures such as going on holiday or going to the office.
It says 45% of those visiting clothing stores would normally get there on public transport, yet 46% now see little point in visiting clothing stores while changing rooms remain shut.
Most worryingly of all for retailers, 57% claim that they intend to avoid going to clothing stores in the coming months for fear of catching coronavirus.
Morgan Stanley analysts said the findings ‘reinforce our views that store-based clothing retailers are going to have a very tough time until there is a vaccine for COVID 19,’ which they believe won’t be widely available until summer 2021.
However, the findings also show net changes compared to a survey in 2019 in how people view in-store shopping compared to online, with more people than last year positive about shopping in-store, particularly when viewing its role as a leisure activity. That gives a glimmer of hope for retailers with physical stores, although the stock market doesn’t yet share this view.
Most of the sector has seen shares plunge dramatically year-to-date. Only online retailers Boohoo (BOO:AIM) and ASOS (ASC:AIM) have seen their share prices rise, reinforcing the view that the shift to online is accelerating.
However, analysts at Morgan Stanley pick out Primark-owner Associated British Foods (ABF) as a stock which could bounce back post-coronavirus.
While they say, due to social distancing measures, the next 12 months won’t be good for town centre-based clothing retailers who rely on generating high sales densities, given there’s likely to be a more challenging economic backdrop when things get back to normal, it will be value retailers like Primark who will look well-positioned again.