Pure London Blog

10 Aug 2020

Refuelling the UK high street

Emma Wilder
Refuelling the UK high street

2020 has been a challenging year for UK retail, to say the least. That’s why, for 2021, Pure London, along with Hyve Group’s family of UK shows, is focusing on refuelling UK retail. You can read our manifesto here. It’s no secret that the UK’s high streets were struggling pre-pandemic, and naturally Covid-19 hasn’t done this any favours. But with lockdowns easing and business getting back to normal, what does the future look like for our high streets?

The high street as a hub

We often think of high streets simply as shopping destinations, with landmarks like London’s Oxford Street, Manchester’s Market Street and Edinburgh’s George Street setting the definition. In actual fact, with 16% of Britons living within 200m of their local high street and over half of high street addresses having residential status, the high street is much more than a simple transactional space.

Just last year, the UK Government conducted a six-month inquiry into the state of high streets and their role in the communities they serve to determine the next phase for development. With the rise of out of town shopping (in retail parks and supermarkets) as well as the increasing importance of digital retail, the role of the high street has changed.

High street evolution

One surprising finding from this inquiry was that high street retailers believe there is “too much retail space”. Past booms in high streets as solely retail destinations led to increased development of retail properties as well as expansion of existing ones. Now, empty shop spaces and over-sized shop floors are causing reduced footfall and are negatively impacting customer experience.

The answer lies in utilising these spaces differently. Of course, retail is an important part of high streets and there is still a need for dedicated retail spaces. However, the Government’s report recommends that unused spaces and overflows be used to set up community gathering places, residential properties and activity-based centres. Cinemas, parks, libraries, events, festivals and leisure activities are all key to bringing people into town centres and incorporating these into high streets is the latest suggestion to bring footfall back to sustainable levels.

What’s more, studies suggest that high streets that have been designed for people, rather than traffic, have higher footfall. Data from Living Street found that pedestrianised high streets enjoy up to 30% more footfall than those with roads running through them. In a post-Covid world, where space is of more importance, pedestrianised high streets which allow for social distancing are likely to be even more important.

The draw of local business

Of course, it is difficult to make predictions for the future whilst we continue to muddle through wholly unfamiliar circumstances. What we do know, however, is that customer sentiments have changed as a direct result of the lockdown. A recent survey by Barclaycard found that 55% of customers intend to support local businesses, markets and high streets more than they did pre-pandemic, with independent retailers growing in importance. And, with general reluctance to use public transport and most of the country still working remotely, many residents are heading to their local high streets and shopping areas within walking distance from their homes.

Creating a safe space

Whatever the role of the high street, one thing is certain: right now, the main focus should be on helping people feel safe and comfortable in their town centres. From a retail point of view, it’s important to put in place Covid Secure measures, and create an atmosphere that customers feel happy and safe in. As Covid-19 becomes part of our new normal, at least in the near future, those retailers that respond to their customers needs, wants and concerns will be the ones who build strong customer relationships.

Fashion Together will bring you the latest on the state of the UK high street, with key insights from independent retailers as they share their experiences of lockdown and reopening in a new normal. Our virtual forum, designed to bring our community together, will take place on 1st and 2nd September, bringing you the latest collections, exclusive content and more!

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