There is no doubt that the British high street has undergone change in recent years. Even before COVID-19 there was plenty of pressure and we saw some much loved household names disappear, from Woolworths to Maplin. A fall in sales and profits and declining footfall didn’t help any of these businesses although many were already floundering for other reasons. However, despite bleak forecasts for several years the pandemic has demonstrated that many people still really value their high street stores and want to support them. There is hope for the high street but what will retail look like in the years to come?
It’s not all about online
Many consumers have gone online in recent years and there has been a huge increase in shopping in this way. However, it’s worth noting that despite this trend only a fifth of all consumer transactions are carried out over the internet - that still leaves a lot of shopping taking place in person. What is beginning to emerge is the trend for browsing online - this is where the consumer journey usually starts - and then heading into an actual store to make the purchase. Some of the high street stores that are thriving the most in the current environment are those that have embraced this hybrid consumer approach, which is one that is likely to define retail in the future too.
The need for an experience
Consumers don’t necessarily want to shop as a button clicking exercise - many want to have an experience too. The boom in coffee shops in recent years has shown just how important experience can be to consumers - between 2009 and 2019 the number of coffee shops on British high streets doubled. Even at the beginning of 2020 this industry was still growing at 1.6% per year. The coffee shop boom has also supported independents, the part of the retail sector that has struggled most. Casinos, bookmakers and betting shops are another example of a high street business that is booming because customers choose the experience, despite the options that are available online. It’s going to be essential for high street businesses to integrate this desire for experience and this is going to continue to be a key retail trend going forwards.
The danger of out of town
Perhaps one of the biggest issues that high street retail faces is inconvenience. Out of town retail parks offer plenty of parking and ease of access whereas this isn’t always the case for a high street. An innovative solution to this may need to be found to ensure that the high street can remain competitive with what retail parks can offer out of town.
It’s not just the internet that poses dangers to the high street - the issue of out of town shopping could be a problem too. However, there are many ways that retailers in this position can adapt, from focusing on giving customers what they just can’t get online to finding new ways to make stores more accessible and a more appealing choice than a big shopping centre.
Will we see high street shift emphasis to experiences not available online, with more focus on pop-ups, experiential marketing? The tread continues to show a focus on more creative, place-specific events to draw crowds.
Scott Fleary are a leading designer and installer of scenery, set construction, and technical solutions for the creative industry. More information on Scott Fleary's services can be found here: https://www.scottfleary.com/services