The high street has always been a staple of town and city centres across the UK; a place to shop, socialise and stop for something to eat. However, the pandemic caused a major blow to these mainstays, with high streets deserted and more than 8,700 chain stores having closed in the first half of 2021, according to Local Data Company. And while the lifting of lockdown has seen people return to high streets across the country, footfall levels have not returned to their pre-pandemic state.
Encouragingly, however, despite the rise of online shopping over the last 19 months, our recent research suggests that Brits still place value on the high street and the experience it offers. Specifically, 65% expect to shop using a mix of online and physical retail post-pandemic — a figure which rises to 71% of 18-34 year olds.
Even pre-pandemic, people were increasingly looking to shopping centres and high streets for leisure and recreational activities. The high street continues to have a vital role to play in terms of boosting local economies, creating jobs, and helping to build back better — just not in the way we might have anticipated before the pandemic.
Now, as we look to recover, and particularly as we enter the most important season for retailers, we must consider the role of the high street and the ways people want to use it to ensure we can meet their needs and expectations. Ways to expand the breadth of services available in our city centres – enabling ’15-minute cities where everything consumers could need can be reached within a quarter of an hour – will be vital to merging community and convenience and aiding the UK’s recovery.
For example, out-of-home solutions such as lockers, parcel shops and PUDO points enable shoppers to drop off and pick up parcels quickly and easily in between activities like going for a coffee and doing their weekly supermarket shop. This is of even greater importance now that people are returning to the office and navigating new post-pandemic routines means they may not be home to receive deliveries or won’t have the time to wait in long queues to drop off parcels. We need to find innovative ways that add value and convenience to people’s post-pandemic lifestyles.
Out-of-home solutions such as lockers are also a footfall magnet, bringing new and different types of customers to nearby businesses — our research shows that half of those using lockers end up visiting nearby stores. Not only does this have an economic benefit, but it also has a positive impact on the sustainability of the high street. Parcel lockers have the potential to lower CO2 emissions by two thirds compared to home deliveries — helping to protect the health of our local communities for the future.
The high street — and what consumers need from their local town and city centres — has changed irrevocably. To get people back to the high street and boost momentum, we need to take a step back and consider exactly what it is that consumers want. We have a significant opportunity to re-imagine the high street, and those that recognise what it takes to evolve and adapt towards a ‘one stop shop’ for their consumers’ post-pandemic needs, will benefit immensely.
Ultimately, convenience needs to be baked into every aspect of the retail experience and solutions that bridge the gap between online and high street shopping need to be front-of-mind. It’s time for the next evolution of the high street to ensure we meet the needs of today’s transformed world.