high street

Is this the end of the High Street as we know it? Recent news that retailer Debenhams is shutting down its remaining 118 High Street stores – following the acquisition by online fashion retailer Boohoo of their brand and website for £55 million – is another blow to the British High Street.

New research has found that 61% of people are worried that the High Street as we know it is at risk of disappearing entirely.

Store closures are changing the face of the retail landscape, according to KIS Finance. The lender points out that High Street retailers have been some of the biggest casualties of the pandemic, with a significant shift towards online shopping.

There’s another example of this change, with Asos’ recent purchase of Topshop and other Arcadia brands, with the intention of online retail only.

What does the future look like for our town centre, during this period of change? The survey from KIS Finance found that 61% of Brits are worried the High Street will disappear completely during the next decade, with a growing number of big-name store closures.

The biggest victims of the move to online shopping are forecast to be fashion, food, beverage and value brands.

However, luxury brands may do well as consumers value the in-person shopping experience.

The survey also found that convenience is a key factor affecting our shopping habits today, fitting in with our busy lifestyles.

Research from The Local Data Company and PwC shows that 11,000 shop outlets closed in the first half of last year; twice the number that closed down in the same period a year earlier.

There is a significant shift to online shopping, with 32.8% of all retail sales made online in May 2020, up from 19% before the pandemic started in February.

While the majority of consumers will be sad to lose the High Street, this online shopping habit appears to be here to stay, with 87% of the UK now shopping online, which is the highest proportion in Europe and even higher than in North America, where the comparable figure is 84%.

One consequence of this changing High Street landscape is the large number of job losses in the retail sector.

A recent report from KPMG found that 180,000 retail jobs were lost in 2020, and it is predicted a further 400,000 could go this year.

While some of these jobs are likely to be replaced by the new job creation we see with online retailers, these will be a small fraction of the number of jobs lost.

Support for local, independent retailers appears to be holding up well during this change for the High Street.

KIS Finance spoke to retail expert James Child, retail analyst at Estate Gazette, about this shifting pattern towards shopping local. James said :

“There has been a swell of goodwill for both retailers and community groups that have come together during these difficult times. Consumers will be more aware of the potential of local shopping than they perhaps may have been previously.”

“Customers are as loyal to businesses and stores as they are to brands. Tapping into this has always been paramount to success, the current conditions have allowed these retailers to showcase their offer.”

Holly Andrews, Managing Director at KIS Finance says:

“As many large retail outlets close we may see a continuation of the pattern over recent years of vacant properties switching to residential use. Certainly, there has been an increase in applications for bridging loans for those wanting to convert shops and offices into residential units.

“With the changes to the UK planning system proposed by the Government, the process of converting empty retail space into much needed housing could be one way to bring people back into central locations.

“For this transition to work, High Streets need to find ways to reinvent themselves to remain a relevant space at the heart of our communities.”