Blog: Leonie BarrieUK high street takes a hit

Leonie Barrie | 30 June 2011

There's no doubt that times are tough on the UK high street, and if evidence was needed then look no further than today's news that department store chain TJ Hughes has gone into administration, putting 4,000 jobs at risk. Its decision comes hot on the heels of a similar move by women's fashion retailer Jane Norman where, despite the sale of 33 of its 94 stores to fellow retailer Edinburgh Woollen Mills, more than 1,000 jobs still remain under threat.

Of course the combined effect of tough trading conditions, rising debts and high rents are not unique to fashion retailers. Indeed, in the last few days chocolate firm Thorntons has said it is closing 120 stores, furniture retailer Habitat was placed in administration, and the owner of the Comet electricals retailer is mulling a sale.

But clothes are among the first purchases to go when shoppers - themselves facing low wage growth, a tight squeeze on disposable income, and concerns about job security - cut back on non-essential items in order to pay for higher food and petrol prices instead.

And even chains like Debenhams, which today bucked the high street gloom to post a 3% rise in like-for-like sales so far in its second half admits its performance has come at a cost: cutting prices and increasing promotions to drive revenues have eaten into gross margins.

Worryingly, observers are finding it hard to be optimistic about any respite over the next year either, warning the underlying problem of low consumer confidence will be hard to fix.


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