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What is the future of the high street?

by Sarah Dunsby
4th Feb 19 12:33 pm

From January onwards through 2018, roughly 1,300 (and counting) store closures have been reported as many large retailers focused on maximising profits by jettisoning branches, leaving unused units littering our high streets. Recent findings by leading retail analysts uncovered that this has led to over 7m sq ft of UK retail space sitting unused.

Image Courtesy of ABC Finance

UK high street footfall drops by 3m

While some areas have moved with the times to provide shoppers with the high street experience they’re looking for, others have languished leading to shuttered ghost towns dotted around the UK.

Sadly, things haven’t gotten any better into 2018. Based on research by Ipsos footfall on the UK’s high streets footfall was down by 4.2% across the entire UK between the end of 2017 and the end of 2018, equivalent to a drop of 3m high street customers.

Image Courtesy of ABC Finance

What the future of the UK high street could look like

Commercial finance experts, ABC Finance have been questioning the nation on why we no longer make regular trips to our local high streets and what would make us come back.

Their results found that:

  • 75% of respondents claimed to be saddened by the decline of UK high streets, with a shocking 25%admitting they’re indifferent –likely due to the decades of outdated planning.
  • 20%claimed that their visits to the high street are months apart – mostly because aren’t currently finding value in what’s on offer.
  • 38%stated that they do most or all of their shopping online. This is also supported by the Office for National Statistics who claim that £1 in every £5is now being spent online by UK shoppers.
  • More than half of those surveyed (56%) said that they prefer to spend their money with independent local retailers as opposed to big-name chains.

Councils and local authorities need to look at new ways to draw people away from their screens and back to town centres before there are no high streets left to save. ABC have been seeking industry experts to advise on the features that are likely to give the high street a resurgence.

The results suggest an increase the following would help our high streets see a resurgence: Food and drink choices, experience-focused retailers, activities, green space, beacon technology and flexible work spaces.

ABC took this advice to the British public to see if those following features would in fact make them more likely to visit their local high street. A staggering 1/3 of respondents said they would support all of them being put into place.

Image Courtesy of ABC Finance

Here they have conceptualised what this transformation could look like.

Image Courtesy of ABC Finance

Vicki Wusche, a property pnfluencer, from London supports this. She said, “we need to radically rethink the way that people shop at brick and mortar retailers. I would like to see high street shops return to older values of experience-driven customer service. I would happily pay a bit more to have expert advice and a cup of tea while I shop!”

This is also aligned with studies by from the Centre for Retail Research, who claim that more experience-focused retailers are opening whilst the traditional product-based stores are closing. Here are the businesses that are thriving in 2018 alongside those that haven’t had such a great year:

More Stores Opened More Stores Closing
Convenience Stores Confectionary / News
Coffee Shops Fashion & Clothing
Beauty Salons Music / Games / DVDs
Nail Salons Shoe Shops
Restaurants & Bars Card & Gift Shops
Barbers Betting Shops
Vape Shops Antique Shops
Healing / Treatments Bookshops
Takeaways Flooring Shops
Tattoo Parlours Household Goods
Cafés Furniture & Textiles


Jack Rogers, a customer service and e-commerce manager said, “Online retailers like Amazon (one example of many) are still growing, but I really do feel as though people are falling out of love with them. I work closely with consumers on a daily basis and, increasingly, I’m hearing that people would much rather go and experience something or test the product out in person.

“One comparison that springs to mind is how vinyl records have made a comeback – are they better or more convenient? No. It’s all about the experience.”

If the UK’s high streets have any hope of ending their current slump, they must adapt to changing customer trends. While we may mourn the halcyon days of streets packed with shops, the future is more experience-driven, social and if the powers that be get their act together soon, this progress will act as a well-needed shot in the arm to get our town centres thriving once again.

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