If you go back 15 years, Woolworths was a name you would find on every high street, a true retailer for all the ages. Cast yourself back and you may have gone in there for home items, cards, gifts and even the pick-a-mix sweets. Yet ten years ago, all that changed with the closure of the retail outlet.
Ten years on, what can we learn from that collapse, which shocked the nation, and should more have been done to safeguard not only Woolworths, but other retailers who have left the highstreet in the past decade?
If we go back to December 2008, 807 stores closed between the day after Boxing Day and January 6h, the first really big retailer to fall. It left highstreets with a huge hole and millions shocked or impacted by job losses (directly or family-related).
The Woolworths crash should have been a wake-up call to many across the nation (it was not just felt in certain areas of the UK) however ten years on, we are still seeing businesses in the retail sector close stores all over the UK?
Reports show that in the past ten years, since the Woolworths crash, 32 major retailers have left the highstreet, with a closure of 12700 stores and 175714 job losses. The big ones out of those are all recent withy BHS going in 2016 and Toys R US, Maplin and Poundworld crashing in the past 12 months.
At the time of the Woolworths crash, some suggested it was more down to bad management and poor customer offering than the market that caused the issues. However since then, and a new technology market that is rapidly growing with online offerings, more retailers have crashed for differing reasons, so why is no-one appearing to learn from mistakes?
The Woolworths crash happened so quickly that perhaps it is difficult to take much from the process. In 2008 in its height, it employed over 27,000 people, yet roll forward less than 12 months and it was all gone. In the year before, it had tried to get back to basis, moving in to smaller units however November 2008 was the real low point however as the board of directors had gone and the company had debts of over £400m, ultimately leading to its demise.
Somethings not mentioned already however which led to their huge downfall was property costs for the units they rented and the huge influx of pound shops and value retailers like Home Bargains and B&M. The market was changing, and Woolworths was behind the times, not adapting either.
As a result, and with hindsight, its major collapse was thus not to evolve with the consumer habits of the nation and the new competition, thinking their once brilliant offering, would always be good. The issue was that whilst it was everyone’s favourite shop for something, this something was not the same and it really had become the jack of all trades – master of none, with not enough people shopping there.
So back to today, it is clear that lots could have been taken from the Woolworths experience, primarily that adaptation to consumer needs is vital to keeping your store going. It is not always about being different, but just adapting to shifts in the market. Whilst no-one could have predicted the business costs rise that eventually brought down Wollies, there inability to continue offering a great experience contributed massively to them not being able to cope with the rises.
This greater shopping experience, especially with the ease of online shopping, is vital to businesses and how they continue to market themselves, failure to adapt, like Woolworths failed to do, will see more high street casualties.