The future of the High Street…
10 May 2019 by Ellen Petersen
Following on from my previous comments relating to the restructuring of redundant property and the creation of development opportunities and how the high street is suffering from lack of interest from the consumer, this blog takes a closer look at what is actually happening on the high street. This is not a new thing – high street retail has been in decline for a number of years now.
So…just what does the future look like for the High Street?
We know that a few months ago, PwC reported that 14 high street shops were closing every day and that a net 1,123 stores disappeared from Britain’s top 500 High Streets in the first six months of 2018. We also know that it is fashion, electrical retail outlets, and traditional restaurant and entertainment outlets that are suffering.
But how to bring people back to the high street?
Do we concentrate on smaller, unique shops, which sell a bit of everything – booksellers, with integral café / coffee-shop; ice-cream / desert-style restaurants; stationers with more coffee; coffee shops selling (yes!) coffee…?
What are shopping behaviours like?
The key is looking at what people want and specifically, the shopping behaviours of Millennials (who are defined by US-based Pew Research Center as ages 22-37 in 2018). Given that when making purchases, Millennials place value on experience (Forbes, 2018), where they prefer to spend their money on experiences over material things, we need to think about social interaction (and places to do this), rather than the acquisition of “things”. Forbes also confirms that Millennials like sharing with their friends; either in person or on social media (think here about influencer-marketing and peer-generated endorsements). And again, the relevancy of this mustn’t be ignored.
Forbes also says that Millennials shop promiscuously. “Millennials have no problem trying new, innovative brands rather than turning to a brand seen as old and reliable… their brand loyalty is low…” and so, retailers have the task of giving the consumer a reason to “connect and return”.
All of this is important and relevant in trying to understand the reasons why the high street is struggling; and what can be done to recapture interest in our town centres. It may no longer be the case that we need to lure in the flagship store as a cornerstone to the high street. We may instead look ahead at experience-based shopping: smaller theatres or cinemas; art-galleries with community workshops; niche bookshops; media and (yes, really) vinyl music stores; community shops; “lifestyle-choice” cafes and restaurants (I know of several plant-based eateries for example, where engagement with visitors is all done on social media); hair-dressers / barbers; and, dance and performing arts classes… all with the ubiquitous coffee-shop.
What is happening to High Street properties?
Owners and landlords of High Street properties have a job on their hands in bringing back the fun to the high street, given that Millennials are lovers of social engagement, but not necessarily outside the home. This is why the Deliveroo format is so popular. You can stay at home, play music, party with friends and order a take-away from your favourite eaterie; all while making it a unique experience.
Crucial to remaining responsive to change is in delivery of good quality and flexible housing and workspace, niche retail outlets, and community-based leisure opportunities and entertainment. That will rely on positive amendments to planning guidance and encouraging change of use. The key for the future of the High Street is to appeal to the Millennial stakeholder (in terms of providing a place to live, work and connect with their surroundings) and diversify and remain nimble; which is easier said than done, of course.