Oxford Street in London was once part of the Via Trinobantina – a busy Roman Road between Essex and Hampshire. By the Middle Ages it had become notorious as a site for public executions. And by the 19th Century it had become a place of commerce – of both the legal and illegal kind.
The 20th Century saw Oxford Street evolve into something we would better recognise today. The first department stores opened, including Selfridges, John Lewis and HMV.
While high streets throughout the UK have been under pressure from out of town retail parks for decades, and from e-commerce in recent years, landmark locations like Oxford Street have seemed mostly immune.
But the pandemic has highlighted cracks in this narrative.
Online sales have accelerated as never before, and the logistics that make the rapid dispatch and delivery of goods possible, has dramatically improved too (as the volume of vans on our streets makes obvious).
Even innovations like video doorbells have made e-commerce more seamless by reducing the chance of missing parcels (which is presumably why Amazon bought Ring, one of the leaders in this space).
The days of going downtown and trudging home with bags full of shopping are becoming rarer – why bother when you can get most things delivered to your front door.
But just as Oxford Street has evolved with the times before, it is doing so again. The 100,000 sq ft Topshop store, that has been vacant since the collapse of Philip Green’s Arcadia Group in November last year, has been purchased by IKEA.
“I wonder how much this is about changing customer demographics – young people don’t want to drive to the warehouse?” says analyst Benedict Evans. “And how much it’s about separating in-person discovery and merchandising from online fulfilment now that the store and warehouse don’t have to be in the same place.”
Sabrina Benjamin from Selfridges had a similar take: “The delivery offering is critical to having a home store in this location. With a strong delivery service for items that cannot be carried by hand, this would be a great location for a home store.”