The changing high street

The high street is changing, so how can retailers keep up and ensure they're giving consumers what they want?

The changing high street

Recent analysis shows that 1 in 10 retail outlets across the country are now lying empty and walking through any UK town centre this is clear to see. To let signs abound as consumers continue to opt for the free parking, ease of transport and food and entertainment options offered by shopping centres. The stalwarts of the traditional UK high street like Woolworths and Toys R Us are long gone and only the more affluent areas are able to keep the likes of Topshop or Monsoon.

The ‘death of the high street’ has been much debated. The reason most often given is that consumers are drawn to the convenience of shopping online and who can blame them, with solutions such as Klarna encouraging multiple purchases and delayed payment, to small fees for yearly free delivery and free returns as a given! Retailers are catching on and further incentivising what’s already a growing e-commerce market and a recent report from Retail Economics predicted that half of all UK retail sales will be online within the next decade, up from one-fifth today. Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium’s monthly footfall tracker has highlighted that June 2019 suffered a seven-year low on high street footfall, dropping 4.5%.

But it’s not only changing shopping habits impacting the high street, uncertainty surrounding a ‘no deal’ Brexit and the resultant lowered consumer confidence is also having a knock-on effect in terms of spend. The loss of industry in smaller town centres has moved workforces to major cities and rising business rates and expensive parking has jointly contributed to consumers declining visits to the high street.

So with many of the big high street stores closing what’s taking their places? If you live in a city you’ll have noticed a rise in vaping shops, especially veering away from the centre and into the suburbs. We’re also seeing scores of men's barbers, locally made artisan food stores, delis and one or two plastic-free supermarkets!

So with the traditional high street format rapidly evolving to meet the current economic climate and changing consumer behaviours, what will our UK high streets to look like in five or ten years?

Based on online shopping behaviour I would argue the consumer expects more from every shopping interaction, driving a more holistic proposition from the high street giants who are determined to keep a presence in bricks and mortar.

For years Topshop/Topman on Oxford Street has embraced this format with a nail bar, but this looks paltry compared to Primark's latest flagship store with its multiple eateries, themed cafes, barbers, and even a "snap and share" room where groups of friends can take in as many clothes as they want, set the lighting and the music and then film and photograph themselves on their phones and upload them to social media. In a way, Primark is simply mimicking the huge out of town shopping centres that offer the whole package for a full day out, but packaging it to fit within its own store.

Here at Mallzee Insights, we believe that this amalgamation of social, retail and lifestyle experiential offerings will become a blueprint for the high street of the future.  And is it possible? Well the UK government appear to be on board having pledged to support the regeneration of high streets by investing in physical infrastructure (transport, roads etc) and residential and workplace densification around under-used retail outlets.

Time will only tell when it comes to seeing how UK retailers will adapt to the changing times and changing consumer expectations of what the high street should offer.

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Richard Magnusson

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