How do shoppers feel about the high street in 2019?

Posted by Amy Nichols on the 26th March, 2019
Our research shows that a third of shoppers claim to be visiting the high street less than 2 years ago. Yet, shoppers also claim that the high street (whether in a small town or a city) is their most commonly shopped physical destination (over shopping centres or out of town centres).

The decline of the high street is a long standing concern raised across the media.

The town centre vacancy rate was at 9.9% in January 2019. Overall retail footfall dropped by 0.7% in January according to BRC & Springboard. These gloomy figures are regularly quoted, as headlines of difficulties at our biggest retailers become a common occurrence. The high street is facing a huge challenge from the online channel, with its consumer appeal of lower costs, flexible delivery and ever more price comparison.

But, what do shoppers actually think? Do they believe the high street is in decline? And is behaviour actually changing?

We partnered with Retail Week to track shopper opinion. We looked at what shoppers thought back in March 2018 and what they think now in March 2019.

How are shoppers behaving?

We know that footfall figures are in slight decline. Our research shows that a third of shoppers claim to be visiting the high street less than 2 years ago.  Yet, shoppers also claim that the high street (whether in a small town or a city) is their most commonly shopped physical destination (over shopping centres or out of town centres). However, when we think across channel, we see a move to online. This behaviour has been a trend for a few years. But where it gets interesting is when we look at how people feel about this shift.

How are shoppers feeling?

When we ask shoppers how they feel, they explicitly state that it is important that their local high street is thriving.

81% of all shoppers say it is important.

And yet, we can see that we are visiting less often than we used to. So, what is causing this?

Our human understanding analysis looks at how our identity is impacted by where we live. What, for example, is a ‘market town’ if it doesn’t have a market? Whilst we are shopping online in our droves, we still have a need for a good high street presence, yet we are simply using it less frequently than we used to.

There is a clear divide between younger and older shoppers and how they feel about the high street.  Younger shoppers feel that it is less important to them to have a thriving high street. This is logical. They have had less exposure to the heyday of the high street, and shopping online has been a channel for a greater proportion of their adult life.

Unoccupied Shops.

One of the greatest challenges facing the high street is the growing number of vacant retail units. You can’t help but feel disheartened at the sight of a closing store, or looking at hurriedly placed signs telling you ‘everything must go.’ Two thirds of shoppers feel that the number of occupied shops on the high street has worsened in the last year.

Shoppers think it is worse. And it is worse.

Data from the Guardian and LDC shows that over 24,000 stores closed during the H1 period of 2018.


The Variety of Shops.

There are many different kinds of shopping experiences – markets, high street shops, independent stores, and more. Yet, 3 in 5 shoppers think that the variety is worse compared to 5 years ago.  How many times have you heard people complain that ‘all high streets look the same’?

Landlords are risk averse and encourage the same kinds of established businesses to fill space. But does this perpetuate a failing system?

Experiential Retail.

High streets have diversified away from purely being retail destinations, to creating better experiences. This is where shoppers feel more positive in our research. We see that efforts to bring more experiences to the high street is thought to be better than 5 years ago.

Places to eat, community centres, art galleries, coffee shops are opening in vast numbers to fill vacant retail units, as consumers move towards spending more on leisure. It is encouraging as it presents great opportunities to try new and different experiences. This is particularly important for younger shoppers who value experiences over commodities.

What do shoppers say they want?

Reading about the high street decline can be a depressing realisation.

Yet it is important to look forward and to understand what shoppers say they want from their local shopping. The high street isn’t dead, and we know there is an emotional connection with maintaining a local high street.

We asked shoppers what they most wanted, and we see a consistent picture.

The top four things won’t surprise you.

  1. Independent shops

The top choice. People want to see more variety, more choice and fewer chain stores. However, will they really buy from these stores regularly? Sometimes. But not always.

  1. Free Parking

A well-known problem with cramped town centres is parking. This is not a challenge that retail brands can solve, but it is a big problem for local councils to crack.

  1. Chain shops

Whilst shoppers want Indie stores, they also expect a wide range of chain stores that are known, tried and trusted.

  1. Restaurants

Shoppers expect a place to eat and drink after shopping, or potentially instead of shopping.

Not all shoppers are the same.

Our research with Retail Week shows that older shoppers (55+) value independent shops, free parking and chain stores. However, whilst younger shoppers also want these things, they over-index on wanting restaurants, cafes, cinemas, bars , community centres , theatres and gyms. Younger shoppers want more of an experience from their high street. This represents a challenge, yet also an opportunity. How can we create a high street that is relevant for today, and appeals to all customers?

Explore our data in more detail, please get in touch.

Meet the Author: Amy Nichols
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