Regeneration action needed to stem high street decline

Retailers BRC

The dramatic decline of the UK’s high streets has again been highlighted by a new report from commercial finance experts, ABC Finance, which looks at “2018’s High Street Troubles – A Year of Store Closures”.

According to the research, from January onwards through 2018 approximately 1,300 store closures were reported as “many large retailers focused on maximising profits by jettisoning branches, leaving unused units littering our high streets.” Recent findings by leading retail analysts uncovered that this has led to over 7 million sq ft of UK retail space sitting unused.

Furthermore, based on research by Ipsos, footfall on the UK’s high streets was down by 4.2% across the entire UK between the end of 2017 and the end of 2018, equivalent to a drop of 3 million high street customers.

The damning report has been further compounded by recent news – as reported in the Financial Times – that Arcadia has now listed 67 stores it wishes to close across all of its brands.

While some areas have moved with the times to provide shoppers with the high street experience they’re looking for, others have languished, leading to shuttered ghost towns dotted around the UK. And the problem is countrywide.

As a result of its findings, ABC Finance has been exploring the potential options for the future of our high streets, questioning the nation on why we no longer make regular trips to our local high streets, and what would make us come back.

The results found that 75% of respondents claimed to be saddened by the decline of UK high streets, with a shocking 25% admitting they’re indifferent, likely due to the decades of outdated planning. Some 20% claimed that their visits to the high street are months apart, mostly because they aren’t currently finding value in what’s on offer.

The research findings also revealed that 38% of those questioned stated that they now do most or all of their shopping online. That’s also supported by the Office for National Statistics which claims that £1 in every £5 is now being spent online by UK shoppers. And that’s growing, though not at the rate it once was.

Interestingly, more than half of those surveyed (56%) said that they prefer to spend their money with independent local retailers as opposed to big-name chains.

This highlights the need for councils and local authorities to look at new ways to draw people away from their screens and back to town centres, before there are no high streets left to save. ABC has been seeking industry experts to advise on the features that are likely to give the high street a resurgence.

The results suggest an increase the following would help the UK’s high streets see a resurgence: More food and drink choices, experience-focused retailers, activities, green space, beacon technology and flexible work spaces.

ABC took this advice to the British public to see if those following features would in fact make them more likely to visit their local high street, and 1/3 of respondents said they would support all of them being put into place. There’s clearly much work to be done, and quickly.