“There is a new value system at play” – Mary Portas on the high street’s future

Mary Portas. (Image: PA Wires)
// Mary Portas says the high street needs to change, not just be saved
// Speaking to The Observer, she says the strategy of “stacking stuff high and selling it fast” was now “completely and utterly over”

Mary Portas has said the high street brands that have dominated for years have “failed to offer anything beyond mediocrity” and implored retailers and the government to think about changing the high street, rather than just save it.

In an interview with The Observer, the retail guru – who was appointed by former Prime Minister David Cameron to lead a review into the future of British high streets in 2011 – said the days when the strategy of “stacking stuff high and selling it fast” was commonplace was now “completely and utterly over”.

She said the retailers that did this for years “failed to offer anything beyond mediocrity” and questioned whether consumers genuinely miss BHS or even care about Dorothy Perkins.


Her comments followed a week of high street woes when 26,500 jobs were put at risk at retailers including Debenhams, Bonmarche and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group – all of which have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

BHS was once part of the Arcadia Group retail empire, and Dorothy Perkins remains one of its brands.

“We’re looking at a whole new generation who aren’t going to prop up the likes of Philip Green any more,” Portas told The Observer.

“They’re not supporting businesses who don’t prioritise people or the planet. We’re moving away from that: there is a new value system at play.”

Despite the grim news of recent weeks, Portas went on to forecast growth for high streets.

She said the future of the sector relied on fewer shops just selling goods and more on retailers that had a strong in-store customer experience focus, as well as spaces that act as community hubs.

Portas also said the Conservatives have failed to comprehend how retail has changed, and they “need to wake up” to the reality of online retail giants needing to pay equivalent rates of tax online.

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  1. I agree we need more activies,bulldoze a lot of shops that aren’t disabled friendly. Too many upstairs shops that need escalators and stairs dangerous especially in fires and crowds. Expand ground floor so knock several shops into one to make larger and combine brands into one store saving rents and time. Competes then more with internet.Out of town proved years ago opening hours later than High St shocked hat carphone warehouse didn’t go earlier out of town. It made sense merging the phone retailers. The main mobile networks stores are traditional retail hours yet more are bought online not needing a store only often to collect or for repairs. Banking often is similar too. Shops have just become click and collect pick up points and not much else. Stores don’t always stock items or have too many they should’ve put online. We need more town centre homes for young people who go out and families move to the country. Older people struggle in the country. They need to live just outside of towns. Towns need less retail and more to do and the cities get the highest footfall and tourists won’t always order online.

  2. Why people even listen to Portas any more is beyond me. Most of this is just her parroting other analysts with the same nebulous blue-sky thinking ideas. Community hubs being the most popular buzz-phrase these days, although no one has ever really explained to me what it means.

    Mary proved many years ago that she knows nothing about how to revitalise the high street beyond some carefully set up scenarios in her various TV shows (and even many of those collapsed soon afterwards). Just speak to the people of Margate about her real approach to independent retailers.

    Can we please stop giving oxygen to her self-promotion and listen to people at the sharp end who actually know what they’re talking about.

    • She did help Margate,I know I used to live there and her ideas can work. The High St died when the internet and out of town came along and Mary turned around failing businesses before. Tom Kerridge also is good with pubs. This is what needs to change, more things to do more experiences like games and homes for young people and business people and towns could have loads of affordable housing to rent instead of empty and lifeless stores and the internet has revolutionised the way we live.

    • Ian, I couldn’t agree with you more. Never has such an unqualified opinion has such a large audience. I have seen the aftermath of her (so-called Midas touch) and she leaves High Street and businesses in ruins. Today’s trendy consortium of soundbites and buzzwords exists merely to hide cluelessness and the absence of a clear structured approach forward.

  3. There is something a little exhausting about hearing someone saying what many of us have been hearing for almost a decade now. This is nothing more than stating the obvious, that was obvious before Brexit uncertainty, before the boom of online retail and certainly before Covid19. The Portas review was disingenuous, subjective, idealistic and a snapshot in time. This is the opinion of an appointed celebrity. Such uninformed reactionary opinions are dangerous, misleading irresponsible and slightly infantile. Unfortunately, SMEs and small independent traders will assume this rant to be as good as gospel. Fortunately, big business, franchises and multinational chains analyse data, consult professionals and adapt accordingly.


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