Much has been written about the decline of the British high street this year with the impact of covid lockdowns and restrictions. Just this last year we have seen the closure of Cath Kidston, Laura Ashley, Oasis, Warehouse, Evans, Mothercare and Topshop among many others. Many gaping holes are left in our shopping streets, but is this really the end for our high streets?
Since the financial crisis of 2007 we have mourned the passing of many great British bastions of shopping such as Woolworths, BHS and Debenhams. However, it is not just fashion retailers who have disappeared from our streets but also Post Offices, banks and other types of shops such as HMV and Blockbuster as more of our lives have shifted online and become digital. The rise of smart phones has made it ever easier for us to check our bank balance, download music, stream films and order food and clothes. Bricks and mortar shops have suffered as a consequence as many have been slow to adapt to these changes.
Lack of Innovation
Where many of those businesses have gone from our streets, fast food outlets, betting shops and charity shops have moved in as a reflection of our ever busier lives and lower wages. These serve a function in our society currently when many other brands struggle to know what people really want or need. The scale of competition in the retail sector means a lack of innovation can be a killer. The homogeneity of most city centre high streets has also become tedious and predictable; consumers now want more than the same old thing everywhere.
These shifts are not just down to internet giants such as Amazon killing off competitors, but also the impact of years of austerity and inflation hitting our wallets, combined with the rise in precarious working and stagnating wages. Zero hour contracts and low pay have stymied the huge consumer credit spending we saw before the financial crisis. The covid crisis, brexit and the job losses they will cause is likely to further affect spending and so brands will need to work harder to encourage us to part with our money.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on retail that we have yet to see play out in full. Our high streets will be much changed by the time we are back to any semblance of normal life. However, it has just accelerated what was already happening and totally inevitable. The consumer shifts we were witnessing in retail became more stark as we questioned what was really necessary to our lives. During lockdown many of us were forced to stay at home and began to spend more time in our local high streets giving them a real boost. Many city centre shopping areas will be left empty with the move towards more permanent homeworking as less people will be around to buy their lunchtime coffees and sandwiches.
Experience over Consumption
Before covid we also started to see a shift towards experiences over ‘stuff’. As we begin to venture out of our houses and lockdown restrictions we will be looking for experiences over material goods. Spending time with friends and family in a safe way that gives us a change of scenery from our living rooms will be high on the agenda now. Many of us are also beginning to value buying less and buying better as we try and reduce our consumption levels and carbon footprints.
Death or Evolution?
The old model of of the high street is certainly dying, but maybe something else is evolving from the ashes? Next week I will take a look at what our high streets could look like in the future and where they are changing already. So, if you don’t want to miss that then do sign up to our mailing list here to get the best of the blog and much more.