Marks & Spencer is to knock down and redevelop its largest UK store after a big consumer switch to online shopping during the pandemic.
The new 10-storey building, at the Marble Arch end of London’s Oxford Street, will include just two-and-a-half floors of shop space with several floors of offices and potentially leisure space such as a gym. It will have an arcade through its centre and space for 4,000 office workers on the higher floors.
The building, which has been an M&S shop since 1930, currently has five floors of retail across three different buildings that have been merged together over the years. The existing site also includes accommodation for staff training sessions, which is no longer required.
The latest switch to offices on one of Europe’s most high-profile shopping thoroughfares underlines the scale of change expected as the pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping.
The plan has emerged just months after the M&S rival John Lewis applied for planning permission to redevelop the top floors of its nearby Oxford Street store – which houses children’s ranges, electrical goods and the kitchen and bathroom departments as well as dining areas – into office space for rent.
Elsewhere on Oxford Street the Debenhams store has closed for good and the landmark Topshop store at Oxford Circus also lies empty after the demise of Philip Green’s Arcadia retail empire.
The M&S consultation document says: “The nature of retail is changing and customers are less likely to progress up numerous levels. The upper floors also suffer from poor floor to ceiling heights further discouraging customers from visiting.”
M&S said the new building would enable the company to “unlock value” from the site and have a modernised store in the west end of Oxford Street. The retailer has another store at the eastern end of the prime London shopping street.
All staff working in the store would be redeployed to surrounding M&S stores during the proposed redevelopment, which was not expected to begin for more than a year, and would return to the new Marble Arch store when it reopened.
M&S said it did not expect to submit its planning application until May at the earliest and the approval process was likely to take well over a year.
Sacha Berendji, M&S’s retail, property & operations director, said: “The launch of our proposal to redevelop Marble Arch today is the latest example of how we are shifting gears in creating a store estate fit for the future. We are focused on emerging stronger from the pandemic.”
Even before the pandemic spurred the trend for online shopping, department stores faced particular difficulties as their large sites with long leases have been slow to adapt to changing shopping habits.
Debenhams, House of Fraser and Beales have all gone into administration. Beales closed completely before at least one site relaunched under new owners, while Debenhams and House of Fraser have shut numerous stores.
The coronavirus outbreak has put further pressure on city centres, particularly London, as the shift to working from home and disappearance of day-trippers and tourists has left formerly busy areas quiet.
Government advice to avoid public transport has put shoppers off travelling into central London, where the underground is a vital transport link.