High street rises again as consumer demand redraws the retail map
The high street has had the last rites read over it several times in recent years as commentators decided its days were numbered, thanks to the rise of ecommerce. In recent years stores owned by retailers as diverse as Woolworths, Blockbuster and Habitat have vanished from high streets around the country as those companies went bust during the recession. (There’s a fuller list on this Centre of Retail Research
page). For some years, once thriving, iconic, stores stood empty, leaving the high streets around them blighted by lack of trade.
But a new study suggests predictions of the death of the high street have been much overstated. Today the high street is staging a comeback. Business adviser Deloitte
has used Local Data Company
analysis in a study that suggests the high street is now outperforming retail parks and shopping centres. It found that only 20% of high street shops affected by 27 high profile administrations since 2009 are still vacant. However, 37% of those shops on retail parks are still empty, as are 29% of those on shopping centres.
The effect of the online retail boom can, however, still be detected in the upturn in the high street. It’s all part, says Ian Geddes, head of retail at Deloitte, of a retail response to consumer demand to shop whenever and wherever is most convenient. This high street comeback, however, has been firmly marked by the effect of online retailing which has put power with the consumer to shop where they want, and when they want.
It’s a map of retail, effectively, that’s now being drawn by the customer rather than by the retailer.
“Historically, retailers have talked about ‘destination’ shopping locations,” said Geddes. “However different and more cautious consumer spending patterns have joined forces with a technology-powered convenience culture which demands that goods and services are available as and when the consumer demands.
“Rather than taking shoppers away, the internet is pushing people back to shops with the growth of click and collect. The evidence suggests we may be entering a new era of ‘en route’ shopping, powered by mobile shopping and the demand for collection points strategically located at a point between where the consumer is travelling from and to.”
Supermarkets, for example, are meeting consumer demand by putting more convenience store formats on high streets that are near where people live. Others are also opening convenience stores – in all, the sector accounts for nearly 12% of space taken over following administrations. Discount stores are also thriving, thanks to the UK shopper’s newfound taste for bargains.
High streets are not, it seems, becoming the home to bookmakers, pawn shops and charity outlets that many once warned. Only 3% shops vacated as a result of administration over the last five years have been occupied by charities, and less than 0.01% by pawnbrokers or bookmakers, the study found.
Hugo Clark, director at Deloitte and author of the report, said: “The results of this research are surprising and seem to challenge a number of myths around the state of the high street. They would suggest that far from being dead, the high street appears to be showing great resilience and a capacity for reinvention. It seems that a structural shift is taking place with the high street emerging as an unexpected winner.”