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It's official:

The British high street is back in business

Of course, it’s never quite so simple. Research paints a mixed picture – so who has returned to shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, what are they buying, and why?

Person browsing clothes on a shopping rail

Signs of recovery

As we begin to return to some sort of normalcy, there are encouraging signs for the UK’s high streets. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says that a period of pent-up demand has slowed, but high street sales in August 2021 were still up 3%.

And YouGov polling shows that 68% of the British population was fairly or very confident about visiting high street shops ahead of last summer's lifting of Coronavirus restrictions in England. There didn’t appear to be much disparity between the genders, regions, social grades or, perhaps surprisingly, age groups.

Consumer spending

So far, official figures show the jobs market is holding up well – the number of employees on payroll in September 2021 was higher than before the pandemic for most areas, according to the ONS (Office for National Statistics).

This is reflected in spending levels. According to the High Street Recovery Tracker, consumer spending at high street businesses in August 2021 was already at 90% of its pre-pandemic levels.

However, recovery was uneven. In tourist centres such as Blackpool and many smaller cities or towns, high streets were bouncing back – but less so in London, Birmingham and Manchester. This is largely because these cities are reliant not on holiday or weekend shoppers, but on city centre office workers.

Local high street

Where are people shopping?

According to Barclays, some 44% of workers expect to continue to work from home at least part of the time. Therefore, 25% say that the best way a retailer could appeal to them is to open a store near where they live.

Barclays has calculated that there could potentially be 17,000 new stores opening on local high streets over the coming year. So it could be good news for communities – and a more worrying time for major city centres. Nonetheless, 80% of retailers were confident of growth over the next year.

What are people buying?

Barclays found that the most in-demand goods are those which promote a healthy lifestyle, cited by 45% of retailers. Some 23% of young people choose such products, against 13% of over-55s.

Sustainable products are also in demand among 38% of shoppers, especially younger people.

Research for the BRC found that in August 2021, high street sales of clothing, footwear and accessories were up. Technology, furniture and appliances were down – but that’s against 2020 figures when they were boosted by the pandemic.

In-store food sales dropped slightly due to the reopening of the hospitality sector.

Person in a bakery with baked goods sticking a homemade sign in some cakes

Reviving the high street

The closure of some high street names has led to opportunities for new businesses to spring up. PWC research shows that cake shops have been a surprising winner, along with takeaways and convenience stores.

Longer term, the Government has announced plans to invest in high streets, making them “thriving places to work, visit and live”.

Retailers must do their part, too. That means investing in improving the customer experience in their physical stores, making them places where people are eager to spend time and money.

Get in touch

At Linney, we are excited about the opportunities for retail. As experts in shopper marketing services, we’re confident we can help you appeal to customers in our post-pandemic age and contribute to the high street revival.

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