8,739 high street stores vanished from the retail map of UK in the first six months of last year, according to research compiled for PwC by the Local Data Company.
This figure paints a bleak portrait of a decline that has gripped town centre retail neighbourhoods that once flourished as the centre of local trade and community.
But how did the high street get into this slump? And what initiatives are needed to build back vitality of our high street?
Interestingly, there are small towns and villages with thriving retail businesses and strong loyalty to the high street. And, sadly, there are too many high streets that have become ghost towns.
Consumer habits have evolved as online shopping has become convenient, fast and offers a vast array of products. The pandemic and forced closure of shops during lockdown fuelled this surge in online sales.
But many people value having physical shops in the community.
Retail accounts for 5% of the UK’s economy but pays a quarter of all business rates. The current business rates that shops are faced with do not reflect the economic conditions. High business rates continue to hinder retail investment in shops, jobs and more. Businesses need a sustainable operational cost base if they are to trade successfully in the high street.
Despite such frustrations of many retailers, there is ample opportunity for high street businesses to partner with residents and destination marketing experts to collectively help in attracting visitors and custom for now and the future.
To ensure the vitality of Helston’s high street we need to adopt a “phygital” approach. Go digital to promote and create awareness of what’s on offer in shops. While at the same time ensuring the physical attractiveness of stores and shop windows to entice shoppers inside. Having a range of products at prices that meet the needs of local consumer trends is essential too.
Shops based on the very traditional model of retail need to embrace this “phygital” transformation. Offering tech-enabled, personalised store experiences, while using in-store inventory to fulfil online orders, is the way forward for high street retail.
Looking at the big picture project, the published levelling up initiative focuses mostly on the physical attributes of the town centre. Sustainable rejuvenation of the high street requires a thriving local economy that supports footfall and spend in shops. We need to get increased visitors into our high street today. Let’s shop local and support our town!