It’s not unrealistic to say that the British High Street holds an everlasting memory to anyone who’s grown up in this country. It’s that first look of independence for soon-to-be teenagers, blindly unaware their mum is sat in the nearest Costa, or the hustle and bustle of panicking men trying to purchase the perfect Christmas present at 4:30pm on Christmas Eve. Yet, year on year, that image is changing. More and more shop windows are emptying, and the high street is beginning to swap its vibrant, buzzing, atmosphere, instead being painted as a colder, emptier space.
In what has been called the ‘retail apocalypse’, high street stalemates are struggling to combat services like Amazon and ASOS, who can offer you the world at a touch of a button, preferring convenience over experience. The last Woolworths closed its doors 10 years ago, whilst BHS ended an 88-year high street run in summer 2016. Although, the end doesn’t always mean just that, high end retailer LK Bennett was saved at the 11th hour, whilst House of Fraser was also rescued by retail giant Mike Ashley. The latest nasty surprise is Debenhams, who, after declining offers from Ashley, are set to close 22 stores by the end of 2020 – putting the business in chaos.
Despite the negative press, it’s not all doom and gloom, as in recent days some of the UK’s biggest retailers have announced a more positive reception – controversially not just reliant on online presence. Primark, who famously do not allow online purchases, have recently revealed a surge in their half year profits. As well as this, they have just opened their biggest ever store in Birmingham, creating multiple entry level fashion jobs, as well as more senior positions. Other companies, such as Next – celebrated for its 5am Boxing Day sales, have also reported a higher consumer response than expected, and whilst they may be currently operating on a decline, the outlook isn’t as grim as once thought.
And then there’s the High Street itself. Manchester’s City Centre has been hailed by many as the best outside of London, mainly thanks to the Arndale shopping mall, which, according to its website, attracts around 40 million shoppers per year, and has over 250 individual units. Further afield, the Trafford Centre boasts equally high figures, with 31 million visitors and 200 stores.
Manchester itself hosts some of the UK’s biggest brands, with the thriving Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided all basing their head offices in the booming city. Whilst these may be online brands, Missguided now has a global high-street presence, with a store in Kent’s Bluewater shopping centre, and one in the world-famous Dubai mall. These fashion e-tailers are currently setting the benchmark which the UK High Street is trying to catch up with.
Other Northern cities are also investing in their high street, determined to draw shoppers back in. Sheffield is currently in development for a £470 million new retail quarter, creating a new space with shops and restaurants- an extremely profitable industry, in order to draw consumers back towards the brick and mortar. Leeds recently opened its Victoria Gate shopping centre, bringing its historic, picturesque arcades together with a new, modern space.
Whilst the demand for online shopping is only set to increase, the High Street still offers one unrivalled detail- experience. Some consumers will always favour the opportunity to spend time and money in a physical store, whether treating themselves to a personal shopping appointment or simply browsing the attractive displays. Retailers are aware of the shift in customer, and whilst that consumer exists, they will continue to cater to both online and physical shoppers to make that all important sale. In a time of economic uncertainty there is still hope, and as long as that lasts – our high streets shall live on.