More than 60 leading retailers in the UK have said shops that are not allowed to trade before Christmas may never reopen.
The group, comprised of business leaders from companies including Harvey Nichols, Burberry and Marks & Spencer, has called for all retailers to be able to open by the start of December.
In a letter to the Times, the retailers said the closure of non-essential shops under the national lockdown in England had put “hundreds of thousands of retail jobs at risk” and was threatening to sink businesses.
“A continued period of retail closure will see more shuttered high streets and many more job losses at the heart of the festive season,” the signatories wrote.
The letter also pointed to a recent paper from the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which said that closing non-essential shops would have a minimal impact on the spread of coronavirus.
“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions in making their stores Covid-secure, keeping both customers and staff safe,” the letter read. “Yet retail stands on the brink, and decisive government action is needed to save it. Retailers of all shapes and sizes must be allowed to reopen by the start of December.”
November and December account for more than a fifth of all retail sales, the group said, with the closures depriving non-essential businesses of around £2bn each week in sales.
According to research conducted by the British Retail Consortium, between 5 and 8 November, footfall fell by 75% year on year.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the BRC, said the closure of non-essential retail was “compounding the challenges facing our high streets”.
“‘Non-essential’ stores are estimated to be losing £2bn per week during lockdown, yet rents continue to mount, and the business-rates cliff edge is looming,” she said. “All the while, government reports show the impact of closures on Covid transmission is low.”
On Saturday, the bakery chain Greggs announced it is to cut more than 800 jobs as result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The firm’s CEO, Roger Whiteside, said that if sales remained at the levels seen during lockdown, Greggs “will not be profitable as a business”.
Earlier this week, WH Smith revealed it was planning to close 25 high-street stores, after sales fell 19%, leaving it £280m in the red.