Virtually every town in the UK has a High Street. The High Street refers to the primary business district and acts as the hub and heart of any British town and is usually centrally located.

However, the high street as a street of small independent shops where you could buy pretty much anything you might ever need is long obsolete, as across the country, shops are disappearing at an alarming rate. The vacancy rate for shops is currently 13.3%, and 1 in 7 shops are currently boarded up. In the first six months of 2016, 2,656 shops closed on Great Britain's high streets, a rate of 15 stores a day; with more shops closing than opening.

Does This Indicate the Impending Death of the High Street?

In 1990, Britain was home to 15,000 independent butchers. Nowadays that number is less than half, at 6,000. The same story goes for fishmongers, and a number of other traditional shops.


Photo credit: Doc Searls/ Wikimedia Commons

Chain retailers have also continued to decline, with a net loss of 437 shops in the first half of 2015 compared to 203 shops for the same period in 2014.

Brits have sadly witnessed many of their favourite shops close; the 100-year-old Woolworths closed its doors in 2008, Blockbusters in 2013, Comet in 2012, Jane Norman in 2014 and HMV which went into administration in 2013, although a few stores remain open.

Although consumer behaviour has changed, people are still consuming more than ever, albeit in different ways. Despite massive changes, it can be argued that the high street is not 'dead' but 'different'. Consumers also want more from their high street; perhaps a centre that provides services such as gyms, beauty salons, and a night time economy (restaurants, pubs and bars). Convenience shopping is also increasing, with Brits now preferring to shop on the go, and carry out 'top up shops', rather than the traditional weekly bulk buy.

Revival of Tradition


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However there has been a slow, yet growing trend to counteract the loss of the traditional high street, with an increase of openings of traditional sweet shops, tea rooms and butchers in the past few years. There is growing popularity for buying locally in order to source fresher and healthier products. This is in part due to the growing health consciousness of Brits and campaigns to buy local.

Reasons for the Decline in Product Based Outlets

Online shopping

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There are a number of reasons for this decline. One of the most prominent being the takeover of online shopping. Online shopping increased by 8% from 2015, and 77% of Brits have claimed to do online shopping at least once; a 24% increase since 2008. Stylish clothing and sporting goods are the most purchased products online (at 54% of all purchases), and those aged 25-34 are making the most purchases. Shopping online is quick, convenient and easy and can be done from the comfort of your own home, or on the move. This competition puts a strain on retail units that may not attract such footfall, particularly when the weather is colder.

"I prefer shopping online. You don't have to wait around in long queues and it's far quicker and easier. Also, I find you can get more deals online". [Kate, 27, West Sussex]

"I definitely prefer to shop in stores. I prefer to see what I'm buying so I am able to feel the texture of the fabric and I'm able to try it on for size which saves me the hassle of having to return it, if it doesn't fit." [Molly, 22, London]

Consequently, many of the larger stores such as M&S, River Island and Next move out of small high street units, into much larger out of town retail parks, where they will get more footfall.

As well as added competition, shop owners are also fighting for retail space, which is not often affordable. Retailers also fall under when developers sell retail space which is converted into residential space to make a higher profit.

Another factor is consumer behaviour. Despite people spending the majority of their money on clothing online, research has actually demonstrated that consumers are less concerned over fashion trends, which years back would've encouraged the masses to get shopping and update their wardrobes. Young people in particular are saving money for experiences; dining out, going to bars, and going on holiday/travelling, rather than clothing and new shoes.

Parking restrictions is also damaging Britain's high streets, with aggressive anti-parking tactics, high cost parking and small cramped car parks.

Brexit has pushed uncertainty onto businesses; the fall of the pound and uncertainty about the future of trade deals and the economy means retailers are less confident in renting out retail space.

Cas Paton from online retailer OnBuy comments: "People love the ease and confidence of selling and buying online now. We allow traders to sell stock at a competitive price. It's also beneficial for the customers as well, considering we are a marketplace, they can compare prices from different retailers. Shops on the high street need to adapt if they want to compete with online retailers and therefore survive in today's digital age".

Retail park

Photo credit: Alan Murray Rust/ Wikimedia Commons

How to Save our High Streets?

High streets need to continually adapt to suit the changing consuming market. A number of campaigns have been put forward as to how to save our high streets, and experts have given their advice:

  • Offer lower rents to retailers.
  • Develop high streets into 'urban playgrounds' which include more green spaces, gardens and play grounds, where space allows it.
  • Create areas which contains reasonably priced parking.
  • Bring public buildings to the high street, such as libraries, where people go to hang out and are more connected to the economic activity of people.
  • Create a lust for bespoke shopping – offer a range of clothing that you can only buy in the stores.
  • Make stores more attractive inside and give consumers a more unique experience. American store Hollister offers customers a unique shopping 'in the dark' experience which proved successful in drawing in customers.
  • Rather than stack shelves with products, treat shops more like showrooms where consumers can be engaged on a 1 on 1 basis. Interactive display screens are an example of this.

Decline vs. Growth Areas

We have examined the shops which are popping up more on our streets, and the ones that are in decline.


Retail Unit Decline

Store closing

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Banks: Around 12,000 banks have closed over the past 30 years and around 1500 towns currently have no bank. This is due to the increase in online banking, and the decline of cheques.

Post Offices: We are losing a net figure of around 35 post offices each year. Changes in the newest technology and customer behaviours, falling income and rising running costs have all contributed to this.

Fashion Retailers: 184 fashion retailers shut in the first 6 months of 2016. This is largely due to the growth of online shopping, stores moving out of town to larger units, a lack of major fashion trends and changes in consumer interest.

Travel Agencies: Thomas Cook closed 28 stores last year, and Thompson had to close 100 stores, largely due to the fact that 80% of people are booking their holidays online.

Physical Entertainment Media: Blockbuster had closed all stores by 2013, HMV has closed 70 stores. Due to growth of Netflix, LoveFilm, Sky movies and online streaming.

Retail Unit Growth

Coffee shop

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Coffee Shops: 6% growth in 2015 and a predicted 26% increase by 2020. Has proven to be recession-resistant. Coffee shop culture is growing in the UK. Consumers want cosy places they can relax in, and places to sit outside when the weather is nice.

E-Cigarette Shops: 2 vape shops per day are opening. More than 1700 shops have opened, half of these opened in 2016 due to increase of vaping as a smoking cessation method.

Estate Agents: There are more estate agents in London than independent butchers, fishmongers and grocers put together. 200+ opened in 2016 alone. This is due to the growing demand of properties in the capital.

Beauty Salons: Female spend is up 19% and male 23%. 90% of salon owners are optimistic about future business prospects. This could be due to growing concerns over appearance, and the impact social and mass media has on people's perceptions of appearance.

Convenience Shops: Around 50,000 exist in the UK and store opening growth is up 16%. This is due to the growing popularity of shopping 'on the go'.

It has become clear that we are seeing many of our favourite shops disappearing off the high street. It is important that the high street adapts with modern tastes and consumer behaviours to remain popular and relevant major hubs of towns. Many campaigns are in existence to save our high street, in the digital, internet age.