In another blow to Britain’s retail sector, American clothing company Gap said that it will close all of its stores in the U.K. by the end of the year as it moves its business exclusively online.
The closures will take place in a phased manner by the end of September and includes the company’s outlets in Ireland. In total, 81 stores will close.
It’s unclear how many jobs will be affected, but the company insisted it will provide “support and transition assistance” to its employees.
“The e-commerce business continues to grow and we want to meet our customers where they are shopping,” Gap said in a statement late Wednesday, noting that it intends to be a “digital first business.”
The retailer, which has been active in the U.K. since 1987 and since 2006 in Ireland, was emblematic of the quintessential American “T-shirt-and-jeans” look that was popular for decades. Its hoodies emblazoned with the company’s name and denim were long bestselling items.
But in recent years, the appeal of Gap has plummeted, edged out by e-commerce sites that have made its offerings seem bland.
It’s also the latest casualty of the pandemic that has battered the U.K. economy. Long-suffering department store chain Debenhams and Arcadia Group, the retail empire of billionaire Philip Green that includes Topshop, have been two of the biggest casualties in recent months.
“The Gap-sized hole in the high street, which will be left when the U.S. retailer closes its final stores at the end of September, will be hard to fill, given the big names which have already left bricks and mortar shops behind,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at stockbrokers Hargreaves Lansdown.
Last year, the U.K. experienced one of the world’s deepest recessions after lockdown restrictions were imposed. While the easing up of restrictions has led to economic recovery, questions remain over the future of the retail sector given that so much shopping is now done online.
COVID’s retail impact
Not all retailers in the U.K. are suffering like Gap.
Rival Primark, known for its low-cost fashion, hailed “several new sales records” on Thursday, “reflecting an increase in both confidence and willingness to spend by our customers.” The brand, which has no online retail division, says it continues to push ahead with store openings and investments across the U.K. and Europe despite the impact of lockdowns.
And another rival, Sweden’s H&M, also struck a more upbeat tone as it delivered better-than-expected profits after a rebound in sales.