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The changing face of the UK High Street – and what it means for retail developers and marketers

By Colin Grieves, Managing Director Experian Marketing Services

What does your local high street mean to you? A place for shopping for the essentials? Or a place to socialise, enjoy a couple of drinks and eat with family or friends?

You can’t have failed to notice the seemingly endless negative headlines about the slow death of our county’s shopping districts, with major brands moving out of their traditional retail locations. But the high street is not experiencing a slow death – instead it is evolving into something different entirely.

The growth of independent businesses

New Experian insight has charted the changes of more than 2,000 locations over the last seven years and there has been an explosion in independent, niche shops and restaurants that offer something unique. What consumers prioritise and value in their lives is driving change.

Vegetarian restaurants (117%), coffee shops (20%), micro-breweries (19%) and cafes (18%), have all seen significant growth since 2015, illustrating the preferences of young consumers and families who value independent shops and view the high street as a destination hub to socialise.

In a nod to our ageing population, there has also been an increase in the number of shops offering hearing aids (221%) and reflecting our love of animals, especially since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of dog groomers grew by 154%.

The acceleration in e-commerce has, inevitably, also had a significant impact on the nature of shops opening and closing. The rise of warehouse space (124%) reflects the growth of logistics and delivery firms meeting the demand of online shoppers across the country.

Meanwhile, with many people now doing their banking online or via their mobile phone, the number of bank branches has fallen by 30%. Both women’s (-47%) and men’s (-26%) clothing shoacps have seen large declines since 2015, while retailers specialising in electronics has fallen by 53%.

The rise of booking holidays online has seen the number of travel agents fall by 15%, and with those who like a flutter now likely to do so digitally, the number of bookmakers has also fallen by nearly a fifth (-19%).

The impact of changing consumer habits

Demographic and behavioural changes are inspiring businesses to cater to these new, evolving consumer demands and habits – and only by understanding these new and emerging trends can retail planners, developers, and marketers identify opportunities which will lead to success. 

Understanding the changes at a local level mean commercial developers can better evaluate their proposed locations for development, ensuring they recognise and react to the demands of the local community now and in the future. 

Understanding the market and headroom for particular amenities in an area gives confidence in investment decisions not only about retail but the wider infrastructure such as leisure, property and delivery services.  Our world is evolving all the time and data analysis is crucial in informing these decisions and creating new businesses which can thrive in our shopping areas.

So news of the demise of the high street is greatly exaggerated. Today’s consumers value a thriving, independent local shopping district as much as previous generations did – it’s just what they value and want to spend their money on has evolved.

This combined with more people working from home at least a couple of times a week, means the opportunities to develop and regenerate shopping areas across the country are there to be seized upon.