With sky high business rates and the online services spurred, the UK high street is suffering from shop closures and a lack of walking trade. Are we seeing an end to the high street?
2017 was not a good year for the UK high street with 5,855 store closures which is at a rate of 16 stores a day. This is more than any previous year since 2010 as fashion retailers, shoe shops, travel and estate agents have been driven out by the rise of the internet.
Because of the rising food price inflation, partly due to the fall of the value of the pound after the vote for Brexit in 2016, shopper’s freedom to spend on non-essentials decreased.
2018 was not much better with several big companies entering administration and others seeking to slash the size of their store estates.
Steve Cochrane , owner of fashion store Psyche in Middlesbrough, said: “This is the most change I have ever seen in the 36 years we have been here.”
“Online shopping is still on 18% of turnover but will probably grow to 20% by next year but it is still the 80% to play for.
“The big thing that is killing the high street is rent and rates. My rent has increased by £5k per year and backdated three years so we have to find another £15k on top of everything else. It’s just crazy.
“To survive now you’ve got to be multi-channelled.
“You’ve got to sell online, on social and have a full digital marketing campaign.
“Our online sales grew by 42% last year due to this.
“Stores who are not multi- channelled are really having a nightmare.”
A growing list of retailers have announced major cutbacks and shop closures – most recently Debenhams has announced plans to close 50 of its under-performing stores putting 4,000 jobs at risk.
Retail parks were the only location type to see a positive net change in numbers of retail and leisure units in 2018 which in many ways can be put down to easy access and free parking.
Almost one in five purchases are now made online according to data gathered by Digital id. Since 2007, the proportion of sales made online has grown every year while the proportion of sales made in store has fallen each year, a worrying trend for high street retailers.
The rise of ‘in-home-leisure – people preferring to spend free time and entertain at home rather than go out and about – is also suspected of taking a bite out of earnings.
The North East had an increase in high street shop closures in 2017, according to new research from PwC and The Local Data Company, with Darlington, Sunderland, Durham, Bishop Auckland and Redcar being hit the hardest.
Property developer and business owner Dave Roberts said: “Darlington has been massively effected, especially with M&S closing down six months ago which devastated the town and also for other stores that has closed in the meantime.”
“We are currently working on a project which is exactly what is being discussed at the moment – what is the future for the high streets. They need to be re-purposed and used for other things than retail.
“We are turning an old building from 1760, right on the market place, into high quality apartments. Darlington has a very pretty high street and market place so this will suit the town. It is a solution we think is right for Darlington.”
The high street is going into a transition period. The total customer journey and service experience draws people to the high street community – from finding information, transportation and parking, navigating the streets and shops, and the look, feel, excitement and personalised customer service of each.
Sociable spaces enable sociable experiences, and this has been true of town centres for centuries.
According to the Digital High Street Report, the new challenges are to think of customer journeys as an integrated series of physical and digital interactions, and to think of physical spaces in the context of their seamless interaction with digital and social media and how to make this memorable and distinctive.
Middlebrough MP Andy McDonald said: “I think here in Middlesbrough we have held up incredibly well.”
“Since 2008 the fear was the global financial crash which would impact really heavily.
“We see many challenges, but the response has been terrific with the council bringing investment into the town.
“On the wider front there is a real issue with too many charity and betting shops which doesn’t help the High Street. We need to see greater vibrancy.
“I think there is something critical we can do to help the High Street and I believe it sits with public transport.
“Many European Cities has embraced public transport in terms of trams, cycling and walking which makes people want to live, work and shop there.
“So, if you can live, work and play in your own urban area it is greatly uplifting and the knock-on effect for the retail sector is enormous.”
With property development, change in public transport and immense effort from councils and private investors to boost the high streets around the UK, will we see a better future or is the high street dead?