Highs and Lows on the U.K. High Street as Retailers Return to Business

LONDON — British retailers have been open for three months and footfall is on the rise, but it’s clear businesses are moving at vastly different speeds as they try to recover from the impact of three national lockdowns and a dearth of international tourists due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Fast Retailing Co. is moving quickly, snapping up a prime corner location on Regent Street for the Uniqlo and Theory brands. The store will open next spring at 101-113 Regent Street, on the corner of Vigo Street, in what is now the Superdry flagship. It will span three floors, with Uniqlo on the lower ground, ground and first floors, and Theory on the ground floor.

The new space covers 20,500 square feet and marks the first time that Uniqlo and Theory will occupy the same store in the U.K. and Europe. The new location is across the street from Uniqlo’s current Regent Street store, and the brand also has a flagship on Oxford Street, a 10-minute walk away.

“Regent Street and the United Kingdom hold a special significance to Fast Retailing,” said the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer Tadashi Yanai. “Regent Street was one of the first Uniqlo stores we opened outside our home market, Japan, back in 2001. During these past 20 years, we have raised our profile as a global apparel retailer, and in the U.K. market alone we now boast several stores.”

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There are 15 Uniqlo stores in the U.K., 13 of which are in London. The Regent Street store will be Theory’s third unit in London.

Newly expanded head offices for the companies’ European and U.K. operations will be housed across the three floors above the store. They will include the first in-house press showroom for Uniqlo.

Fast Retailing said the openings “reflect the continued commitment from Uniqlo and Theory to strengthen their presence in the important U.K. market and increase the level of engagement with customers.”

John Lewis Partnership, which operates the John Lewis department stores and Waitrose supermarkets, hasn’t been moving as fast. During lockdown a year ago the company shut stores and laid off workers, and now there are more job cuts to come.

A spokesperson said Wednesday the plan is to “simplify” management structures in Waitrose and John Lewis stores, “which will allow us to reinvest in what matters most to our customers,” such as frontline customer service and visual merchandising.

If confirmed, the proposals would result in around 1,000 roles being made redundant across the store estate, which comprises 331 Waitrose and 34 John Lewis shops. The company will be looking to cut middle managers in a bid to focus on the customer-facing staff.

The proposed restructuring is part of a five-year plan to reduce costs by 300 million pounds a year by 2022. The company said it is investing around 800 million pounds this year to fund future growth.

John Lewis Partnership said it would try to find new roles for some workers in the group, and offer others the chance to tap into a retraining scheme that contributes up to 3,000 pounds toward a recognized qualification, or course, for up to two years for employees with two or more years’ service.

Some British companies are not moving forward at all.

The remainder of the collapsed Arcadia group is now in the hands of liquidators, who have the job of paying off creditors, including HMRC, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs tax office. Arcadia, which had been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy before the pandemic, fell into administration last November, and its top brands were sold off by Deloitte earlier this year.

As reported, Boohoo bought Dorothy Perkins, Wallis and Burton, paying 25.2 million pounds in cash for the e-commerce and digital assets, intellectual property rights, customer data and inventory of the three brands. Asos bought Topshop, Miss Selfridge and other brands from Arcadia for 330 million pounds. Asos earlier this week inked a deal for Nordstrom to invest in and sell in its North American stores and online the Topshop, Topman and Miss Selfridge brands.

Deloitte sold plus-size brand Evans to City Chic in late December, and said the sale raised total proceeds of more than 500 million pounds for creditors.

Earlier this week, Adam Harris and Guy Hollander of Mazars LLP were appointed as liquidators of 21 property, retail, design, development and holding companies within Arcadia Group, which at its peak employed more than 13,000 people.

Mazars will administer the repayment of about 30 million pounds to creditors, the largest of which is HMRC. Mazars said the tax office is owned “a substantial VAT (value added tax) liability across a number of these companies.”

Harris said “the liquidation of the Arcadia companies is a large and complex undertaking, and our team will draw on its collective experience to maximize returns for creditors, including HMRC. Over the coming months our aim is to repay as much as possible of the group’s outstanding unpaid VAT liability.”

In addition to buying a clutch of Arcadia brands earlier this year, Boohoo bought the defunct Debenhams brand, which it hopes to revive.

To that end, Boohoo said Wednesday it had inked a deal with Alshaya Group to build on the presence of Debenhams in the Middle East. Alshaya currently runs Debenhams stores in the region and will have exclusive rights to operate those stores, and a local e-commerce platform, in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman and Qatar.

It said the partnership will see the Boohoo group brands — including the new acquisitions from Arcadia — sold in Debenhams stores from the fourth quarter of this year, and also via a new local online platform across the Middle East that will launch in 2022.

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