High Street Retail
High Street Retail

The Future Of High Street Retail

  • Post category:Retail

It’s no secret that high street retail has suffered in recent years. The rise in online shopping has led well-known brands to close stores up and down the country. But as one store closes, another opportunity opens. For many, digital shopping is creating more pathways to success. New entrants are taking market share, and social media is enabling some brands to develop strong brand loyalty with their customers.

The pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the shift to digital shopping. A survey by Visa found that a third of the UK population had purchased online items for the first time during lockdown. The general move to a digital format is gaining pace, and reports suggest that 51% of purchases will be online in the future. Yet, that leaves around half of purchases still set to happen in store.

A hybrid shopping experience could be on the horizon – one that blends digital and in-store browsing. We believe the high street remains a vital part of the purchasing process, but the shopping experience will need to change to keep attracting people back to a tailor-made destination.

Here’s a snapshot of how the high street could look in the not-too-distant future.

Pedestrians walk past high street shops Buchanan Street in Glasgow

Shopping local – a trend here to stay

Not all high streets have suffered as a result of the pandemic – some have flourished. Namely, local high streets. Faced with empty shelves and supermarket queues, lots of people turned to local stores for their essentials. Small independent stores saw sales rise by 69% in the three months to June 2020. Chains on local high streets also fared well, with the Co-op and Iceland noting sales uplifts of 30%.

As people spend more time at home, local shops come to the fore as the convenient option. This trend is likely to continue. A YouGov survey found that 57% of Britons want to work from home after Covid-19, and it looks as though lots of businesses will answer these calls with some form of flexible working. The building society Nationwide, for example, has already announced that 13,000 of its employees will be able to choose where they work from. Reports suggest that Metro Bank and John Lewis are also discussing similar flexible plans. If people continue to work from home, local stores will undoubtedly see continued high levels of footfall.

The rise of new businesses

Store closures have accelerated during the pandemic. Research from PwC reveals that 2020 saw 17,532 stores close and just 7,655 new stores open. Clearly, there are gaps across the high street, but these are also opportunities. Finding retail space was once a barrier to entry for new businesses, but this is one hurdle that is now much easier to overcome. Innovative businesses with a vision for a better shopping experience now have a chance to change the course of the high street’s history.

A new store experience

Thanks to the rise of online shopping, customers no longer need to visit your store to see all your items. Instead, people visit stores for an experience they can’t achieve online – to feel products, to try them on, to get a better idea of their size, and for instant reward (not having to wait for items to arrive). Shoppers want to be inspired in-store and to take their time exploring different products in a beautiful setting. The physical store could be reimagined to offer a better experience.

For example, the area designated for changing rooms could become larger to enable more people to try clothes on, reducing queues. There could be more privacy and additional mirrors so that customers can take their time and get a better view of how a garment fits. Extra seating would make clothes shopping more social. And store staff could offer a better service, fetching different size garments for customers and helping the entire process feel less rushed.

High angle view on Strand street road with many cars, double decker buses, traffic, taxi cabs, pedestrians crossing crosswalk, shops, stores, people and hanging flags

A digital experience, in-store

Digital technologies are not only driving online shopping trends – they could also enhance the in-store experience. The likes of Lush and Burberry have created apps that enable you to scan products in-store to learn more about them, while Nike is enabling customers to reserve shoes to try on in-store and M&S is offering an app you can pay through for a faster option at the checkouts.

Virtual reality (VR) is also set to shake up the high street experience, especially for high-value purchases. Audi, for example, lets customers use a headset to see what it’s really like to be behind the wheel during a pit stop at races. VR is also helping to enrich the experience for people redesigning their homes. It gives people the chance to see what their rooms will eventually look like, depending on the fixtures and fittings they choose. Retail giant IKEA is already making use of the technology.

Personalised shopping

A personal shopper has traditionally been reserved for the rich and the famous, but it could become part of the in-store experience for us all. We have already seen how personalisation enhances digital shopping, with customers receiving recommendations and offers based on their purchases and items they’ve viewed. In the near future, we could see more personalisation in store too.

Lush has always led the way in this field, with knowledgeable staff on hand to make product recommendations based on customer’s skin types and preferences. Nike is also making positive steps forward with personalisation in-store – at its flagship New York City store, customers can use a customisation studio. Tech giant, Samsung, uses its King’s Cross hub to create an immersive experience for people to see its technology’s full potential. Guests can create street art on a digital wall, turn their own photos into works of art and create a personalised phone case to take away free of charge.

Small businesses are in a prime position to offer these kinds of personalised experiences. Their stores are often quieter, creating the relaxed environment often needed for experimentation and to have discussions with store owners about different products. They can also host events targeted at local customers to create a sense of community.

High street retail sustainability

Sustainability has gone from being a ‘nice to have’ option to a key purchasing persuader. Surveys suggest that 78% of Generation Z is willing to pay approximately 10% more for sustainable items. The high street could offer a more sustainable shopping experience that meets this growing demand. Online shopping, connected to the rise of fast fashion and excess packaging, isn’t a particularly environmentally friendly option. Physical shops, however, could create a more sustainable service. They can encourage a mentality of ‘buy less and make it last’, with store staff on hand to help people choose high-quality and versatile items. They could offer a packaging-free purchase, with money off when people return bags to be reused, for example. Stores can also offer repair services, patching up everything from garments to homewares to high-tech devices.