High Street Dying? ….or maybe it’s just started to Live ?

Dying …..The High Street

Living……People

We, apparently don’t want shops anymore but we want more places to live.

It has been muted that because of the demise of the High Street, planning laws will be altered to enable developers to turn shops into living according accommodation. Shock and Horror.

There are those who say this would be the final straw.

Stink of fish and chips , smells of curry, and stale Chinese food, the aromatic drift of the kebab shop and dry cleaners fumes are a number of the attractions for decades, of living on the High Street (perhaps not High Street Kensington, for those who know about such things).

Living on the High Street is not a new concept , albeit it has never been something that has really been thought about in a considered manner. People go into shops and people live on High Streets and the very same people will, on occasion, go into the shops those very same shops.

What I have noticed in my area during during the last 12 months, new retailers who had just started before the first lockdown or have planned opening for the very first time post lockdown. We are not talking national multiples, we are talking local independents, that is to say people who know the area , what the local consumer wants and where possible sourcing local product, and have built a model during a retail crisis including sophisticated web sites. Within our industry I saw this happen during the financial crisis and it is happening, in a different way again.

There is a whole bunch of stuff that good local independents and good local consumers living next door to each other are a perfect mix. On an environmental level alone, it makes good sense that people shop where they live (or indeed live where they shop!)

Almost three in five British consumers have made more use of local stores in their area to help them through the Coronavirus lockdown, according to research from business consultancy Deloitte Digital.

The study from late May 2020, also found that almost the same proportion said they will be more likely to spend at shops offering locally-produced goods once the lockdown has fully lifted, compared to before the pandemic hit.

So we’re likely to see a change in shopping habits, with customers more likely to shop local. (Deloitte Digital)

Modern retailing in the UK (as we would sort of recognise it today) probably started way back in late 18th century (Debenhams was founded in 1778). It has , naturally, gone through enormous changes since then but probably none more so that during the last 12 months. Much of that involves online purchasing but not a little by the new independent retail entrepreneur having a better understanding of the consumer and seeing the opportunities that still exist. Perhaps ‘Still’ is the wrong word as many of the opportunities are completely new and did not exist 12 months ago. Maybe they did exist but they weren’t aware of them. By ‘They’ I mean both entrepreneur and consumer.

Our time in lockdown has changed our fundamental approach to life. Our attention has shifted towards supporting the local community, our families and the impact we can have on the world around us. Today, we are much more concerned with why we buy and whom we buy from than how quickly we can get what we’ve purchased.

Who we buy from and what that brand stands for are more important than ever before. Our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated our need and desire to feel good about our purchasing decisions. With few retail experiences open, events to attend, or activities to participate in, people are finding fulfilment in associating themselves with brands that do good. The trend towards brands communicating their virtuous behaviour to engage and build trust and loyalty with customers will have a tremendous impact in the future.

This goes beyond consumers’ baseline expectations of a brand’s approach to sustainability, inclusion and staff, to now include how brands support the social causes that they believe in. As brands move towards becoming the commercial and cultural pillars that society looks to for guidance, they are being asked by the public to wield their influence to have a positive impact beyond the products and services they sell.

The year ahead will undoubtedly see brands exploring how the physical store environment can be used to better engage customers in the causes that matter to their brand most. Showing kindness and empathy to your staff, community and customers will outpace customer experience, convenience and price as the key drivers of brand differentiation.

Retail Focus April 2021

I can only see, if planned properly, the High St, having a greater proportion of people actually living on it, will be a more vibrant a much healthier place to live, physically as well as mentally. However, and it is a very big However, I can see this happening in the more affluent of High Streets. Once again the more socially deprived areas will not be so fortunate. Lucy’s Piquant Pale Ale Brewery, Doug’s Derby Dim Sum, or Sally’s Porcini Sourdough bakery will not be seeking their fortunes in these areas. Paddy Power, Denny’s Discount store, and the odd charity shop will prevail. These High Streets are the ones were the future is bleak. I am not sure there is an answer, for many of the locals even, or particularly, online will not be an option unless cheap workable broadband and then much cheaper technology making it accessible to all socio economic groups. None of which is on the immediate horizon. That said if the retailers are not going there surely it is better to make those empty premises into affordable living accommodation.

Courtesy of the BBC- Not a Good place to live
This looks very liveable but hardly a deprived city centre

Reality bites. Without change and reinvigoration and innovation the High Street is very much in danger of dying and part of that reinvigoration will be more people living there, for a whole bunch of reasons already stated. This, I believe, is specially true where the new breed of retailer are unlikely to venture and that are the poorest areas. With, potentially better housing conditions and more people, there will always be retailers who can develop suitable business models. But let it be done thoughtfully so the Living can stop every High Street from dying.

If the last 12 months has taught us nothing else, it is the impact socially and emotionally in not having a functioning High Street. If it (High St) shows a willingness to survive then we should do all we can to encourage its longevity.

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