Thoughts on the future of the high street

The high street has been going through a change for a number of years but the current Covid-19 situation has accelerated a need to reinvent the high street to account for a fall in instore retail sales and no doubt a reduction in footfall with significant office workers now spending some time at home. 

2020 has redefined for many how we live, shop, work, eat and play. This change means that how the high street is used needs to adapt – to ensure its survival. Most days there are articles like this in the media Coronavirus drives shop closures to new record and Debenhams boss: ‘Our stores aren’t on a cliff edge’household names are disappearing from the high street or completely rethinking their store portfolio. 

Shop closures soared at a record rate in the first half of the year as coronavirus lockdowns hit the high street. Britain lost 6,001 more chain stores than it gained in the first half, up from a loss of 3,509 in the same period last year, a study by PwC, has found.

The lasting impact of Covid-19 has accelerated the digital revolution. High streets need to build a sense of community to survive which ultimately means more residential is needed and the supporting organisations around it: 

  • Residential brings people to the high street, by well having them live there. The recent announcement that John Lewis was looking to branch out into affordable housing Your chance to live in a John Lewis store highlights the social impact businesses are moving towards but also reflects a retail business seeking to bring the customers to them. City centre living is no longer just for students with communities being created in all cities and towns across the country. Evolving the high street by creating a demand – demand for convenience, for social and activities all on the doorstep. 
  • Leisure and F&B are taking up some of the space on our high street. We do joke about the increase in coffee shops but they create a space to be social AND more key now a different space to work. Less so for City centres but towns and villages can retain people on their own high street via use of coffee shops (like me!). Linking to an increase in residential will be an increase in amenities for them. This can range from health activities to social activities – utilising space on the high street (both indoors and outdoors) to create the space we need. 
  • Existing retailers will need to work differently – it’s no longer about relying solely on the brand (though that will help) but more broader about the experience. People can buy online so they need a reason to come and spend money. They will need to work with their landlord to create the flexibility inside and out that they need. 
  • Retailers (and F&B) can create community space. Local businesses hosting discussion groups, book clubs or health & wellbeing sessions. The empowerment of giving local businesses a change to redesign their own high street. A high street that provides education, social and wellbeing space will become a destination. 
  • Destination stores – Stores will increasingly blend the digital and the physical on the high street of the future. Creating the experience (which may not necessarily mean store profit) on the high street will create a place for people to visit – even if they then buy it online. 

The above go to one point – they are creating a wider community and through this a sense of localism for the residents. There is an opportunity for brands to really step up to the plate and focus on the community. Working together can create a true experience for the users – housing retailers, fitness centres and other providers of service. The high street that delivers what we need and when we need it. The dynamic to overcome is ownership. A high street can be a mixture of landlords ranging from the local authority to Listed REITs right through to individuals. Trying to bring together differing views is not going to be easy however essential if a combined approach is to be taken. 

Working together – both landlords and tenants, and ultimately users can really create a high street that will last long into the future. Hopefully it won’t also be referred to as a high street – as the outcome of the above is a Community. A destination.

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