It’s hard to flick through a newspaper or watch TV without hearing about the “demise of the high street”. The situation is also pretty obvious to anyone who’s walked through their local town centre, only to see a string of boarded-up shops and run-down buildings.
Things aren’t always as bleak as the news can make it out to be though. While shops that were once stalwarts of the high street have gone out of business or downsized their operations, new businesses have taken their place.
Over time, we’re likely to see this trend continue, with retailers reacting to the changing tastes of the public.
You can name dozens of brands that were incredibly popular in years gone by, but that no longer exist today. Shops like Littlewoods, Woolworths, Thomas Cook, and Blockbuster were once found in almost every town, but today, none of them are still trading.
Despite the commonly held belief, online shopping still doesn’t account for the majority of transactions. While more than half of all British consumers do some of their shopping online, only around 20% of transactions take place in cyberspace.
The amount of online shopping is set to increase by around one-third in the next four years though.
According to research by Thinkwithgoogle, around 63% of all shopping transactions “begin online”. This means that consumers at least start their purchasing journey by researching products on the internet, even if they eventually buy the product in-store.
Businesses that can adapt to this changing demand, perhaps by combining their online and retail operations, providing same-day delivery by utilising their stores as local warehouses, and allowing easy returns are likely to succeed. This approach is exemplified by Argos, which allows same day pick up for orders placed online from its hundreds of stores across the UK.
Food retailers like supermarkets are also likely to remain relevant. Although ordering groceries online has become more popular in recent months, many people still enjoy the experience and prefer to choose the food products they like.
Over the last decade, high street betting shops and casinos began to increase in number, beating the expectations of many. In the last couple of years, this trend has begun to be reversed as changes to the maximum stake on “fixed-odds betting terminals” meant they were less attractive to players and less profitable for operators. Instead, more players appear to be moving to online casinos where they can play a wide variety of different slots, as well as other table and card games.
We’ll likely see the trend continue, with more betting shops closing, and more online platforms opening.
At the same time, entertainment spots like escape rooms and virtual reality experiences will likely continue to grow for a few more years. Though, they will likely begin to fizzle out as their novelty wears off to be replaced by a new idea.
Cafes, Restaurants, Bars, and Coffee Shops
In recent years, there has been a major shift in consumer spending as more people, particularly younger adults, look for more “experiences” and less “stuff”. This has seen a rise in the number of coffee shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants found on high streets.
While many fail to successfully deliver on their business plans, those that manage to offer something unique to customers, perform well.
Premium experiences like traditional afternoon tea have become much more popular in recent years. According to National Tea Day, businesses have begun offering more “elaborate experiences” that are created to “delight consumers” with an upmarket dining experience.
High streets that have embraced this trend have been able to avoid the demise seen elsewhere. Examples include Chester, where you’ll find dozens of independently run tea rooms and coffee shops, and York, where The Shambles is crammed with locals and tourists looking to try local delicacies from Bettys Café Tea Rooms.
Not the End?
While it’s easy for many media outlets to talk about “the end of the high street”, the reality is far from that. Instead, it’s likely that we’ll see retail spaces to continue to evolve, adapting to the changing demands of consumers.
While the high street we know today may not exist for much longer, business will continue.