The future of the high street post COVID-19

Towns may be looking a bit sparse right now, but the future of the high street isn’t bleak, read on to find out why.

Now that lockdowns are easing, and the high street has slowly seen a return to a new type of normality, all eyes are on the future. No doubt your own high street has taken a battering and there are several empty shops right now. But that doesn’t mean the future is looking as bleak.

How has COVID-19 affected retail?

When COVID-19 first struck in the UK back in March 2020, non-essential shops were ordered to close their doors for an indeterminate length of time. This meant shops were forced to either absorb the loss in income (with some help from government grants) or create/improve their digital presence.

It is hard to avoid the hard facts of COVID-19 when discussing the future of the high street. Several infamous brands and shops, some which we have had on our high street for over a century had to shut their doors permanently. Among them we had Debenhams and the Arcadia group, which includes Topshop, Topman, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge.

Some businesses have since been bought out, but most will not be returning to the high street and will only be sold online.

In fact, the British high street lost 11,000 shops in 2020, and it’s predicted we may potentially see a further 18,000 close this year. This is a substantial loss and not something which can be easily absorbed.

Most shops are now fully open, and restaurants and bars have been opening back up this week. So, we are seeing the high street slowly coming back to life. But what does the future of the high street look like now more consumers are utilising ecommerce platforms to buy their goods.

The future of the high street – what does it look like?

The one main factor which retail stores have over online platforms is the experience. When you walk into a shop you can see the stock, feel the materials, and test the products. It is easier to imagine using a product when it’s in front of you. So, to survive the high street shops needs to utilise this and up their game when it comes to the shopper experience.

Ikea, the furniture giant is one of the first brands to announce changes to their shopping experience. They have stated they will be opening smaller stores in city and town centres, rather than their usual suburban, more remote locations.

This is to make the company more accessible, and they will be more of an experience centre than the usual warehouse style shop we are used to. Consumers will still be able to browse, plan and order their furniture in these smaller stores. However, they won’t have all the stock there to be able to take home the same day. The first one in the UK will be on Tottenham Court Road, London in autumn this year.  

Elsewhere, stores such as Selfridges are taking full advantage of the opportunities of shopping experiences. They are doing this by bringing in an exclusive concierge service which will include a wide array of activities from floristry workshops, a gifting service to children’s parties and pampering sessions.

These two changes are expected to become a more common trend, especially amongst the bigger brands looking to welcome shoppers back to the high street.

What other changes are we likely to see in the high street’s future?

With the number of shops shut due to COVID-19 there are now a lot of empty spaces to fill along high streets up and down the country. Since online shopping is becoming more popular we are now seeing these spaces being taken up by experiences such as restaurants, leisure centres and other entertainment venues. Facilities which need to be attended in-person to be utilised or enjoyed.

This is bad news for retail but great news for local communities as it is bringing a diverse array of fun and interesting activities to do close to their home. These changes are something we are likely to see more of in the coming year and beyond as the economy improves and people become more comfortable going out,

Whether you are a local business or a large corporation, if you are looking for advice on how to encourage consumers back to the high street we can help. Alternatively, we can also support any digital transformations or strategies if you are looking to extend your online presence.

With over 13 years’ worth of experience behind us we are perfectly placed to help your company grow and develop with the post COVID-19 world and beyond.

Contact us today to find out how we can help your company not just strive but thrive in the coming years.