Rick Smith: Could Maplin and Toys R Us be a warning for Lincolnshire retailers?

As well as the snow and ice plaguing the county this week, one bit of news which was almost buried under a snowdrift this week was the plunging of both Toys R Us and electronic specialists Maplin into administration.
As well as the obvious implications of potential job losses and yet more vacant high street and retail park space, could this be a warning for other retailers in the county?

The demise of both chains is unfortunate but not wholly unexpected. Last month Marks & Spencer’s announced its planning to close some of its stores to reduce costs while New Look said that a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) may be on the cards as sales have fallen. Unfortunately, they’re not alone; at least 10% of UK stores are at risk of being closed.

However, is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Can anything be done by Lincolnshire’s many independents?

Some may say yes but the problem is more about change and an inability to compete.

There has been a huge shift in how and where transactions take place, moving from the high street to online.
Both Maplin and Toys R Us had an online presence, but they faced stiff competition from the likes of Amazon, who could offer the same goods for less due to a vastly different infrastructure and lower operating costs.
Another issue which won’t have helped is the current lower spending by consumers as people continue to feel the effects of wages not keeping up with inflation.

So, what does the future hold in store for the sector?

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to predict as many retailers are unsure on how Brexit is going to affect them owing to the likelihood of increased tariffs on imports and exports.

However, there is hope if retailers can do what it takes to compete with the likes of Amazon and other online giants.

A lot of shoppers value the personal service high street shops can provide and clothes stores in particular may be spared as people still like to try before they buy. We may also see more stores merging as they try to stay in business, similar to the Carphone Warehouse and Dixons group merger.

Retailers need to use this difficult period to streamline their operations and their stores as there is no room for firms that aren’t willing to change or innovate. By taking advantage of the technology available to them, retailers can provide a better experience for their customers which will help to build loyalty and trust and keep them coming back. Tesco’s recent scan and pack and many other large retailers’ using innovations like virtual mannequins and electronic point of sale displays is making it more tempting to visit. These kind of daring investments are what will lead retail.