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Not only is Glasgow Scotland’s largest city, it is also rightly considered Scotland’s shopping capital, known for the “Style Mile” in the centre. Retail is an integral part of Glasgow’s history and has played a significant role in shaping the city into its current form.
With global events - the digital revolution, coronavirus pandemic, and inflationary environment, to give a few examples - transforming retail, Glasgow is transforming too. This provides an interesting mirror for changes in the UK stock markets.
A history of retail in Glasgow
Since medieval times, market stalls and traders’ carts have lined the High Street, later becoming fixed stands, and then permanent shops.
At first, these shops were purely utilitarian, with each serving a single function, such as a butcher or bakery. But, in the Victorian period, new manufacturing methods made many new types of goods available to the masses. The seeds of consumerism were sown, and shopping became an activity in its own right.
As a result department stores began to appear on Glasgow’s main shopping streets, such as Sauchiehall Street and Argyle Street. One of the earliest, Arthur and Fraser, was established in 1849 on Buchanan street, where it remains to this day (operating as House of Fraser, now a nationwide chain).
In the 1980s, the face of Glasgow retail was changed yet again with the launch of What Every Woman Wants: a cheap and cheerful fast fashion concept, without the trappings of a department store. Many a ladies’ night out in Glasgow has been accessorised by “Whateveries” (to use the Glasgow vernacular).
Retail in Glasgow today
Buchanan Street remains the hub of Glasgow retail, now housing two large shopping centres: Buchanan Galleries to the north and Princes Square further south (occupying “Scotland’s favourite building”, according to a 2017 vote). A third shopping centre, St Enoch Centre, is located nearby, in Argyll Street. Combined with Sauchiehall Street, this area forms the UK's largest retail district outside London.
However, the retail sector is facing huge changes across all segments and sectors. Changing consumer behaviour, increased internet shopping, and challenging economic conditions are forcing retailers to operate and engage with their customers in new ways. The coronavirus pandemic has had a role in the acceleration of these trends, with click-to-buy and fast delivery now baked into the retailing concept.
The far-reaching impact of retail trends
As the retail sector adapts, it will continue to change the face of the city. Declining footfall will lead to many large department store buildings either being demolished or changed to facilitate an alternative use, such as hotels, restaurants, bars, homes, and office space. There are plans for Buchanan Galleries to be redeveloped as an “urban neighbourhood”, combining retail with residential, professional, and leisure spaces.
As we look at the changing face of the high street over recent decades, it’s interesting to note that the rises and falls are often reflected within the FTSE. Many once-household names have disappeared entirely, and even Marks and Spencer has lost its privileged position of a FTSE 100 constituent. This goes to show that retail trends have much greater power than we might think, with a noticeable impact on our social environments and financial markets.