The modern day high street: a child’s eye view.

Posted by Hanna Bentley on the 21st August, 2019
A balance needs to be struck to make high street shopping an enjoyable experience for both parent and child if we want to encourage younger generations to support their local high street. There are some real opportunities for retailers and local councils to make some changes. Listening to a wider audience is key to ensuring the changes made are for the better.

My childhood memories of visiting the high street are full of joyful nostalgia. At the time, I’m sure I claimed to hate it. Every Saturday, my Mum and I would visit my Grandma and take her on a magical mystery tour of Southsea high street, which mostly consisted of visiting Debenhams, Knight & Lee (part of John Lewis), Woolworths, Clintons and then Waitrose.

The same shops. Every. Single. Week.

But looking back now, I think I actually liked it.

Quality time with my family, being allowed to push the buttons in all the lifts, playing with the toys in the basement of Debenhams and being treated to a lovely lunch in a small independent café (FYI, I’d always have the cheese & pickle plaited roll and a strawberry tart. Heaven). But it begs the question: what is shopping on the high street like for the children of today?

I saw an article recently that said 1 in 4 children aged 5-11 have no idea what a high street is.


Have their lucky parents managed to nab a trip to the shops without their delightful offspring or do they just not refer to it as a high street anymore? The research in question, has been conducted by Nationwide Building Society as part of their ongoing commitment to the great British high street – they have recently pledged to not leave any town or city in which it is based, without a branch until May 2021 at the earliest.

I was keen to delve a little deeper into this research – research with children always fascinates me and I thought it would be the perfect topic to ask my two boys and my 8 year old nephew about to see how they would compare to the national average.

I know my two boys (aged 7 and 4) are not big shopping fans and usually have to be bribed with a babyccino and gingerbread man pit-stop, to get them to even entertain the idea of shopping with their Mum. I decided to ask them a few of the key questions from the survey to see how they compared.

It’s worth pointing out that I am fully aware my sample of 3 boys isn’t exactly ideal compared to Nationwide’s sample of 2000 but hopefully you get the idea…

What is a high street?

Well, according to the Nationwide research, 26% of children surveyed did not know what a high street was. When I asked my sample, the results were mixed. They nearly got there and I think with a bit more probing, we’d have hit the jackpot but answers included:

“I don’t know. A street in a city?”
“A street that cars go across on the road”
“A street somewhere but it’s hidden”

I rather like this secret high street idea – perhaps this has something to do with reading Harry Potter and the glamour of Diagon Alley but has my nephew struck something? In the same vein as Secret Cinema, could a secret high street entice and excite people to see the high street as something a bit more magical than they currently do?

But actually, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that over a quarter of respondents from the Nationwide survey didn’t know what a high street was. Maybe in Eastenders, we’re used to people saying “they’re off dan the i-street” but in reality, do we even call it that anymore? I know I’m guilty of just saying “let’s pop to town” or “let’s pop to the shops” so maybe the way we talk about it has shifted over time too.

When I asked them if they liked going to the high street, the results were mixed.

As predicted, the ability to stop for food affected their decision (just like me with my cheese and pickle roll and strawberry tart) but there was mention of shopping being boring but also good to look at new things you might like to buy for yourselves or for relatives for Christmas and other events. Aww.

What shops stand out on the high street?

I also asked my (very niche) sample, which types of shop they had ever visited in the high street. Broadly speaking, the results were similar and comments were made about buying flowers, for example, in the supermarket.

Type of shop Have never visited (Nationwide sample) Have never visited (Internal sample of 3)
Launderette 56% 100%
Florist 44% 100%
Cobbler/Key-cutter 41% 66%
Butcher 32% 33%
Greengrocer 23% 33%
Charity shop 21% 0%
Bank/building society 13% 0%
Newsagent 9% 0%
Baker 3% 33%


The types of shop favoured by my sample, consisted of toy shops (no surprise), discount stores, newsagents (for over-priced magazines, no doubt) and food outlets (an ice-cream parlour was mentioned)!

Similar to the results found in the Nationwide survey (72%), 2 out of the 3 boys said that if they had money to spend, they would prefer to go into a shop rather than spend it online. Aside from winning points for saying you could meet nasty people online, they also stated you could find better things in shops that were brand new, which tallies with 64% of those in the survey saying you could explore all the different things in a virtual store compared to a bricks and mortar one. There appeared to be an association with second-hand, “scruffy” items from online retailers.

What would encourage more visiting?

Finally, the results to the question that all retailers want to know: what would make them go to the high street more often?

Having more places to play came out on top in the Nationwide results (42%) and this was evident in my small poll too – better parks and play areas were mentioned along with more opportunity to play with the toys in shops.

The Entertainer does well here, with shop assistants often demonstrating the latest gadget or toy in the shop foyer and sometimes even outside the store and undoubtedly, this is great for the children.   However, as they’re not the ones who control the purse strings, how successful is pester power here and actually, will the parents just steer their children away from shops like this if it means adding extra time to what is already a pretty rushed shopping trip.

Ultimately, I’m not sure the shopping experience has changed too drastically for the children of today, with the exception of more cafes to choose to refuel in. What is clear however, is that a balance needs to be struck to make it an enjoyable experience for both parent and child if we want to encourage the younger generation to support their local high street.

There are some real opportunities for retailers and local councils to make some changes here and listening to a wider audience is key to ensuring the changes made are for the better.

Meet the Author: Hanna Bentley
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