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Oxford Street’s Past Is Sock Shop. Its Future Is Dyson And Swingers

One of the six Sock Shops on Oxford Street in 1997.

The list of retailers who dominated the prime section of Oxford Street in 1997 reads like a roll call of dodgy 1990s fashion — Oakland Menswear, Jeans West, Kookai, NAF NAF and Ciro Citterio.

London’s premier shopping street had six branches of Sock Shop. Six! Who knew the world needed so many socks?

Actually, it did not. The retailer does still exist, but without an outlet on Oxford Street, highlighting the way the street is constantly evolving.

Data and analysis from Savills show that since 2015 there have been 15 store closures on Oxford Street, or 7% of the total number of stores. If that rate of change continues, in 20 years time 70% of the retailers on Oxford Street could change.

Dyson's new store on Oxford Street

So what will the street look like in 2038? It will likely be pedestrianised, significantly changing the experience. And the mix of users may be surprising.

“More manufacturers and non-retail brands will take control of their own destiny by opening stand-alone stores, as Microsoft and Dyson have already done,” Savills Central London Retail Director Alan Spencer said. “The current trend of retailers partnering with food and beverage operators to entice customers in and persuade them to stay and enjoy the store experience, as seen in Topshop and French Connection, will become more pronounced.”

Department stores make up a large proportion of Oxford Street, and while some like Selfridges are thriving, others may look to lease out big chunks of space to leisure operators or other users.

Indoor crazy golf — using up abandoned department store space.

“Crazy golf club Swingers, due to open above the former BHS store in spring 2018, will pave the way for a new wave of leisure-led offers and generally the use of upper floors will become more creative to provide visitors with entertainment alongside a retail offer,” Spencer said.

On top of this, last week WeWork head of European real estate Patrick Nelson said the firm was looking at taking under-utilised department store space and converting it to co-working offices.

Technology will also play an increasing role, Spencer said, supplementing the fashion retail that will remain dominant.

“The street will undoubtedly remain a hub of fashion and other flagship stores, but interactive and virtual experiences will become more prolific within them,” Spencer said.

No doubt in 20 years’ time future generations will look at the list of stores on Oxford Street today and wonder how any of them made any money. After all, Sock Shop may be gone, but there are still three other sock retailers there. Plus ça change.

Related Topics: WeWork, Savills, Oxford Street