EXCLUSIVE: What's behind the demise of Oxford Street?

EXCLUSIVE – ‘Oxford Street isn’t safe anymore’: Worried shoppers reveal how TikTok-inspired looting has left them nervous – as experts blame rising crime, Covid and online shopping for London district’s demise

  • Experts told MailOnline rise in anti-social behaviour is impacting businesses
  • Shoppers on Oxford Street said they don’t feel safe and found it very dirty 

Worried shoppers have revealed how TikTok-inspired looting has left them nervous on Oxford Street – as experts blame rising crime, Covid and online shopping for the shocking demise of London’s famous shopping district. 

Once dubbed ‘the jewel in London’s shopping crown’, experts say that Oxford Street has fallen behind Regent Street and Carnaby Street and without police intervention, it will be reduced to empty shop fronts – something already being seen.

Retail experts told MailOnline that a rise in anti-social behaviour has no doubt had a devastating impact on businesses day and night. 

The chaos in central London this week echoes robberies and flashmob looting across the US in recent years, which has been organised through TikTok – while major cities such as San Francisco and New York are becoming crime-ravaged and drug-infested.

And only last week harrowing images showed the extent of the homelessness crisis surrounding the popular shopping destination, with large numbers of people lying on makeshift mattresses. 

It comes amid a battle to save Oxford Street, which is one of the biggest victims of the slow death of the High Street across Britain. It has been overrun in recent years by tacky sweet shops that have replaced household names.

Aurora Wei, a 24-year-old post-graduate from Southampton visiting London for the first time, told MailOnline on Oxford Street today: ‘To be honest I don’t feel safe here which is why I gather my bags close to me. I heard that there’s a lot of thieves these days.

A combination of rising lawlessness, the pandemic and online shoppers are to blame for the shocking demise of Oxford Street, experts have claimed 

The chaos in Oxford Street on Wednesday was triggered by an online push to ‘rob JD Sports’

Aurora Wei (left), a post-graduate from Southampton visiting London for the first time, said that she does not feel safe on Oxford Street and holds her bags close to her

Nicole Pivec, 54, said that Oxford Street was ‘definitely lacking a distinct character’, while Karl Kelly (right), 43, said he thought it was ‘dirty’

‘I saw all the chaos here the other day and of course [it affected me when thinking about coming down here]. I was quite worried [after seeing the video] which is why when I bought something I put it in my bag and not here [in my shopping bag].

‘I also heard from my friends that they have had very bad experiences here, saying it is quite dangerous. I know some people also drive their vehicles too fast too which is why I try to the side.’

READ MORE: How Oxford Street became a national disgrace: ROBERT HARDMAN on the decline of Britain’s most iconic shopping haven 

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industry Association, told MailOnline: ‘Since the return from lockdowns and the pandemic we have seen considerable changes in consumer behaviour, without doubt anti social behaviour has had an impact on businesses across sectors operating both day and night.’ 

‘As we have seen in Oxford Street over the last few weeks, unlike night time economy businesses, retail environments do not have the required security infrastructure to deal with these issues.’

‘Ultimately the lawlessness experienced in the area will have an impact on customer footfall, and without a robust intervention from the Police, will see one of the world renowned retail areas reduced to empty shop fronts.’

Mr Kill added that the police must have a long term strategic objective to stop these crimes as many businesses can’t afford to ‘cover the cost of policing the capital’s busiest retail street’.  

Robert Carruthers, director of independent consumer research company ConsumerCast, added: ‘Clearly it’s the victim of multiple different overlapping factors ranging from the effects of the Pandemic on central London visitor numbers to the decline of department stores due to online shopping.’

Mr Carruthers said that Oxford Street will require ‘significant investment’ to recover. adding: ‘This latest incident won’t help make the case for putting money into the area.’

The retail expert was referring to the crowds which gathered in Oxford Street on Wednesday after posts circulated on TikTok and Snapchat urging users to rob JD Sports. Nine people were arrested and Scotland Yard issued 34 dispersal orders, banning offenders from the area for 48 hours.

Fears of violence then spread to Southend after troublemakers urged copycats to ‘get lit’ on the beach. Among those given a dispersal order by Essex Police officers yesterday was notorious TikTok prankster Mizzy, real name Bacari-Bronze O’Garro.

When MailOnline went to Oxford Street today, shoppers described how the tourist hotspot is constantly busy, smells all the time and there is rubbish everywhere.

Police were seen wrestling young men to the ground in the Oxford Street area on Wednesday 

Groups of young people were seen running away from police on Oxford Street on Wednesday

A police officer wrestles with a young man on Oxford Street in London on Wednesday 

Police detain a male outside a McDonald’s in Oxford Street on Wednesday

Emily, 24, who works on Oxford Street, said: ‘I don’t really like it here, it’s really busy, it smells all the time, there’s rubbish everywhere, it’s constantly busy, constant foot traffic.

‘I live in London now but I come here every day for work.’

Joey, also a 24-year-old Oxford Street worker, added: ‘Personally I would not shop at Oxford Street. It is too busy and you can get the same shops five minutes around the road and I’d much rather online shop than come here.

‘My main thing I’d say about Oxford Street is that it is for the tourists not the locals and I don’t know anyone who would shop on Oxford Street that lives in London but tourists will come to Oxford Street. It’s a tourist place and if we just accept that that’s fine.

‘I haven’t seen any sort of negative decrease [since the TikTok loot] I thought there would be but either people were not aware of it because algorithms are so specific now they weren’t even aware of them.’

Umbrellas rest on a rough sleeper’s cardboard boxes outside on Oxford Street last week

One of the boarded-up shopfronts that can be seen along Oxford Street

Rough sleepers in makeshift beds outside closed shops on Oxford Street last week

Karl Kelly, from Ireland, was visiting for the first time with his family. The 43-year-old, who works in a power plant, told MailOnline: ‘It is my first time here and I thought it was dirty. I did expect some higher market shopping and I haven’t seen many of them yet.

‘It is a bit like New York in a way but it is smaller – but New Yorks even dirtier. I would come back here though. Some of the architecture does not really blend in with the old architecture and it doesn’t seem to match.

‘There seems to be a McDonald’s on every corner and it’s really busy. I think for the shopping it’s good but it’s not something you can’t get anywhere else…Most people shop online anyway so it’s more for a day out or to see things.’

Nicole Pivec, from Minesota in the US, said that she was looking for some gifts for herself and her children but it was all the same stuff she could get in America, with nothing original for sale.

The 54-year-old, who works in HR, told MailOnline: ‘Oxford Street is what I expected because this is what I expected on a High Street with the types of stores, with a lot of generic shopping, lots of food and souvenirs. I am not sure what I was expecting.’

She said that she didn’t feel unsafe but that ‘it’s not as pretty as some of the other streets’.

Souvenir and sweet shops are a common sight along Oxford Street, pictured last month

A shop unit next to Bond Street station is in an unkempt state, boarded up and covered in sprawling graffiti

Oxford Street in 1940. Bombing raids in London did not deter shoppers from venturing out – and department store John Lewis reopened just three weeks after the German Air Force razed the greater part of the store to the ground

‘There seems like there are other places in London that are very similar. I haven’t found other places specifically unique to Oxford Street that would make me want to visit it specifically. It’s definitely lacking in distinct character,’ Ms Pivec added.

Other retail experts told this newspaper that Oxford Street is ‘still considered one of the premier shopping areas of the world’ and is on a par with Paris and Tokyo but it has lost its identity.

Jonathan De Mello founder and CEO of JDM Retail Ltd, added that it ‘should not be let to fall into disrepair the way it has’.

Mr De Mello added: ‘Regent Street is still a strong area for shoppers and it should not be tarnished with the same brush. It’s become the place where people now go. 

‘In many ways, Oxford Street’s decline has been Regent Street’s gain, while areas like Carnaby Street have become the home for cooler, younger fashion brands. 

‘The problem with Oxford Street is that no one knows what it stands for anymore. Is it for flagship stores? No, because they have gone more to Regent Street. Is it for cooler, younger brands? No because they have gone to Soho.

‘It needs to figure out what it means for shoppers and until it repositions itself it will be hard to see real ownership.  

Topshop is another casualty of Oxford Street’s continuing decline

Some shops on Oxford Street temporarily closed on August 9 as social media users threatened to raid stores as part of a ‘flashmob’

Rough sleepers are an increasingly common sight on what was once the most desirable shopping street in Britain

Cardboard mattresses and rumpled duvets dominate the street at night – highlighting the shocking homelessness crisis that has seen the number of newly homeless people in London rise by 12 per cent

The HMV store was once an Oxford Street landmark – but disappeared in 2019 when the firm sank into administration 

‘On Oxford Street you have hundreds of properties on one street and if you want quality for shoppers you need to have some cohesion. You can’t have a burger joint next to a fashion house.’ 

Mr De Mello also said that the recent TikTok chaos will ‘discourage people from going to Oxford Street if they feel that they are not safe’.

He added: ‘With the amount of people there, the mob could have potentially stolen from not only JD but other businesses or simply people minding their own businesses. It will have created negative connotations towards the street when it is already struggling.’ 

Dr Amna Khan, senior lecturer in consumer behaviour and retailing at Manchester Metropolitan University, said that the amount of store vacancies is having a devastating impact. 

Dr Khan said that the street is not attracting the right types of vendors because it ‘has lost some of its prestige’.

She told MailOnline: ‘Traditionally it has been one of the best shopping streets in the UK but it does not hold that position anymore because it now has different types of shops that attract a different type of audience.

‘Key brands like Marks & Spencer’s are even considering their position on the street and so you have almost got a perfect storm – lots of vacant stores and lots of different types of stores that all end up affecting the customer experience.

‘There is no real sense of community and identity on Oxford Street and it needs that for its regeneration.

‘It has really suffered over the years and the number of vacant stores of the ten year period has just been increasing year on year and that will not attract the right type of customer, resulting in a decline.’

As Oxford Street battles to survive, the Marks & Spencer chief executive said that the area had once been ‘the jewel in London’s shopping crown’ but was now little more than ’empty shops, littered streets and fewer visitors’.

He said shocking scenes of social media-fuelled carnage this week as thugs attempted to loot stores were ‘another reminder of how bad things are’. 

Mr Berendji told the Telegraph: ‘The street was practically locked down by police to prevent major unrest planned on social media. Londoners know that something must be done to save Oxford Street.’ 

His comments come three weeks after M&S was refused permission to knock down and redevelop its Oxford Street store after opposition from Michael Gove.

The New West End Company revealed statistics that show footfall from January-June year on year is up 30 per cent in Oxford Street East and up by 7 per cent on Oxford Street West despite the shopping district seemingly falling apart.

Dee Corsi, CEO of New West End Company, said: ‘The disruption on Oxford Street on Wednesday was successfully mitigated by proactive planning and information sharing between the New West End Company, the Metropolitan Police and member businesses. 

‘As a result of this forward planning, the day passed with limited impact on businesses and members of the public. We continue to welcome visitors to experience all that Oxford Street has to offer across the summer months and beyond.’

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has said thugs who looted stores in Oxford Street must be ‘hunted down and locked up’, and that the UK must not be allowed to plunge into ‘lawlessness’.

Sharing a video of the Oxford Street arrests on X, formerly known as Twitter, Ms Braverman wrote: ‘We cannot allow the kind of lawlessness seen in some American cities to come to the streets of the UK.

‘The police have my full backing to do whatever is necessary to ensure public order. Those responsible must be hunted down and locked up.’

MailOnline has contacted the Met Police.

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