Oxford Street is ready for a change of look, with new exciting retail players taking up space on the high street. Thankfully, it will entail getting rid of many candy shops, writes Dee Corsi
Positive change is coming on Oxford Street – and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to look far to find it. The nation’s high street has always been at the epicentre of retail innovation in the U.K. It remains a destination for businesses to put their best foot forward and, behind the hoardings, is a street on the cusp of a once-in-a-generation transformation.
That said, the scale of the challenge at hand is the likes of which we have not seen in decades. Long-term changes to the retail industry, including a seismic shift in consumer expectations of physical retail, have been accelerated by the pandemic.
Such a radical change to the British retail environment requires a radical response; and that is what we can see on Oxford Street today. Vacant units and hoardings are not a sign of a street in demise, but one that is getting ahead of the problem faced by so many high streets: a shift from purely transactional retail to providing immersive retail and leisure experiences which cannot be replicated online.
This Oxford Street of tomorrow is being created by businesses, property owners and investors that recognise the opportunities that the nation’s high street can unlock. Investment is flowing in, with nine ambitious developments in the pipeline, promising nearly one million square feet of mixed-use space upon completion.
We continue to see acquisitions within the district; Great Portland Estates added 90,000 square feet of prime West End office and retail space to their portfolio this month, saying the purchase represented a “fantastic opportunity” to develop the “strategic” West End site next to Tottenham Court Road station. Indeed, the property is in a highly desirable location, with Oxford Street East experiencing a 30 per cent uplift in footfall year-on-year following the opening of the Elizabeth Line and a sustained period of development in the area.
A further endorsement of Oxford Street’s long-term value is the diversity of retailers who call it home. Existing leaseholders, such as Reserved and Pandora, are expanding their footprint, with both brands set to open additional stores at Oxford Street East in newly available units. Others are also using the iconic location as a test-bed for retail innovation; The Fragrance Shop is set to open an “experiential” flagship in what it describes as a “defining moment for the business”.
Much criticism has been given of the prevalence of candy stores on the street, but these too are diminishing in numbers as more prestigious brands sign long-term leases. Paris Saint-Germain has recently taken over one of these candy store locations, for what is set to be the first physical store for the football club in the UK.
Perhaps the most symbolic victory against lower-level occupants is the imminent return of HMV to its iconic storefront, currently leased by an American candy store. HMV has promised that the reopening marks an “exciting new era” for the brand, with the store set to feature live music and signings, alongside stocking pop culture memorabilia.
This trend towards more immersive retail and leisure experiences will continue, with Oxford Street convening the very best that global brands have to offer for audiences that are spending longer than ever (over two hours) on the street. Flannels X offers a “cultural playground” hosting a series of pop-ups, gigs and fashion industry events, whilst the Outernet – one of the top five attractions in the U.K. – and The Twist Museum offer something different for families enjoying a day out.
Of course, long-term, fundamental change takes time, but a new dawn for Oxford Street is most definitely on the horizon.