From January onwards through 2018, roughly 1,300 (and counting) store closures have been reported as many large retailers focused on maximising profits by jettisoning branches, leaving unused units littering our high streets. Given that Recent findings by leading retail analysts uncovered that this has led to over 7 million sq ft of UK retail space sitting unused, Commercial Finance Experts, ABC Finance have been exploring the potential options for the future of our high streets.

While some areas have moved with the times to provide shoppers with the high street experience they’re looking for, others have languished – leading to shuttered ghost towns dotted around the UK.

Sadly, things haven’t gotten any better into 2018. Based on research by Ipsos – footfall on the UK’s high streets footfall was down by 4.2% across the entire UK between the end of 2017 and the end of 2018 – equivalent to a drop of 3 million high street customers.

Commercial Finance Experts, ABC Finance have been questioning the nation on why we no longer make regular trips to our local high streets and what would make us come back.

Their results found that:

  • 75% of respondents claimed to be saddened by the decline of UK high streets, with a shocking 25% admitting they’re indifferent –likely due to the decades of outdated planning.
  • 20% claimed that their visits to the high street are months apart – mostly because aren’t currently finding value in what’s on offer.
  • 38% stated that they do most or all of their shopping online. This is also supported by the Office for National Statistics who claim that £1 in every £5 is now being spent online by UK shoppers.
  • More than half of those surveyed (56%) said that they prefer to spend their money with independent local retailers as opposed to big-name chains.
Councils and local authorities need to look at new ways to draw people away from their screens and back to town centres before there are no high streets left to save.ABC have been seeking industry experts to advise on the features that are likely to give the high street a resurgence.

The results suggest an increase the following would help our high streets see a resurgence: Food and drink choices, experience-focused retailers, activities, green space, beacon technology and flexible work spaces.

ABC took this advice to the British public to see if those following features would in fact make them more likely to visit their local high street. A staggering 1/3 of respondents said they would support all of them being put into place.

Vicki Wusche, a Property Influencer, from London supports this and believes that “we need to radically rethink the way that people shop at brick and mortar retailers. I would like to see high street shops return to older values of experience-driven customer service. I would happily pay a bit more to have expert advice and a cup of tea while I shop!”

Jack Rogers, a Customer Service and E-commerce Manager from Kent believes that “Online retailers like Amazon (one example of many) are still growing, but I really do feel as though people are falling out of love with them. I work closely with consumers on a daily basis and, increasingly, I’m hearing that people would much rather go and experience something or test the product out in person. One comparison that springs to mind is how vinyl records have made a comeback – are they better or more convenient? No. It’s all about the experience.”

If the UK’s high streets have any hope of ending their current slump, they must adapt to changing customer trends. While we may mourn the halcyon days of streets packed with shops, the future is more experience-driven, social and – if the powers that be get their act together soon – this progress will act as a well-needed shot in the arm to get our town centres thriving once again.