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Back to Blog May 15, 2018

What to expect on Britain's High Street before 2020

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the British High Street is in a state of terminal decline. The release of annual figures and quarterly reports from major retailers rarely seem to have anything much to celebrate these days. It seems that only a few weeks seem to pass before another big name is rumoured to be in trouble.

Roving news reports always seem to focus on a bleak impression of the high street, one consisting of betting shops, charity shops… and empty shops.

But the end of the British High Street has been exaggerated.

Not vastly exaggerated, perhaps, because only the foolhardy would try and claim that there isn’t a major problem that needs to be addressed. The British High Street remains in a state of flux with shop closures up, sales down, and footfall declining – but the High Street will adjust, not disappear. So, what can we expect to see on Britain’s High Street before 2020?

A nation of shoppers, not shopkeepers?


The famous saying – first coined by Napoleon, no less – that Britain is ‘a nation of shopkeepers’ may no longer be true. It is the ‘central shopping drag’ of our towns and cities that seem to have suffered most since the depression of 2008.

As customers found themselves with less money in their pockets, the high street began to suffer. Of course, the biggest single factor is the internet. Britain is still very much a nation of shoppers – it’s just that increasingly people are happy to do their shopping online, without having to venture onto the high street at all. In addition to this, rising property prices and rates have put more pressure on high street retailers.

Figures abound that emphasise the decline. The Centre for Retail Research predicts that up to 200,000 retail jobs will be lost by 2020. This is in addition to the 150,000 that have already been cut since 2016. More closures are inevitable, but experts believe there is a way that the British High Street can stage a fightback.

There is no way that Britain’s High Street will ever return to the heyday of Sixties’ London Carnaby Street – but it can have a future.

A re-defined shopping experience


Consumers are sometimes happy with the shopping experience to happen exclusively online, but there are times when they still crave the experience of visiting a physical store. The High Street will become more of a combined leisure/shopping experience, rather than simply a shopping one: restaurants, cafes, DJs – even work areas –  are all ways to make the whole experience of visiting the High Street more appealing. Expect to see more of these type of approaches appearing over the next couple of years.

Springboard, a provider of retail performance insights, reported that UK High Street footfall grew by 0.8% in the first half of 2017 – hardly a massive increase, but certainly a start and something to build upon. Those retailers who take innovative approaches can still show that physical stores have a future. The Pud Store, the brainchild of the ex-Apprentice contestant, Fran Bishop, has won awards for innovation in retail with her boutique kids’ clothing business.

At present, Pud is in physical store format only. A growing Facebook community is treated to an engaging social strategy – but there is no online shop. Sales are strictly High Street only.

This example bucks the trend, but it does show that there is life in that old dog, The High Street, yet.

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