The High Street is dead. Long live the High Street

The High Street is dead. Long live the High Street

30 Jan 2013
Verity Evans

The quiet revolution that's taking place on High Streets up and down the nation is picking up pace. We've lost HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster. And before that, Borders, Woolworths, Comet and many more. It makes you wonder, who's going to take their place? And what's the High Street really for?

According to a recent Ofsted report, Britain leads the world in Internet shopping, with the average consumer spending over £1,000 per head, per year online. Around 80% of Britons who have Internet access, shop online. A trend that seems likely to increase. And with Internet giants like Amazon not paying UK tax, the playing field isn’t level at all. Analysts estimate that another 140 retail chains are under threat.

Right now, 43% of spending still happens on the High Street, says the British Retail Consortium. What will that number be in five years or ten years' time? Does it matter if our shops are replaced by something different? Will we even miss them?

People are worried about the death of the High Street. Mary Portas is waging a one-woman war to save it. There’s no doubt that we’re in the middle of a major shift. What we want from shops is changing. What will live on in our town centres will be fundamentally different today, to what went before. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

We can say goodbye to the era of soulless identikit town centres, each one a plastic-fronted clone of the last. Goodbye to limp in-store experiences with products lolling on a shelf and non-existent service. It’s the end of everything we’ve always hated about shopping. Everything we’d choose not to do, if we had another option.

And hello to a new era of local, relevant, exciting experiences. Shops of the future won’t simply put products on a shelf. They’ll work harder to create experiences and environments worth travelling for. Things people enjoy doing. Places people enjoy spending time in.

It’s no coincidence that brands like Starbucks are working to create unique spaces. Replacing its chain of uniform coffee shops with stores full of individuality, that fit into their locality and offer people greater choice. And that’s just the beginning. Over time, we’ll see more and more innovation, as brands do more to engage with customers, and their communities, face-to-face.

Shops of the future won’t simply shift products. Because if they remain transactional, they’ll die. They’ll have to play a bigger role: to have a meaningful exchange with customers, to provide great service and to offer extra value that can’t be found online.

People love sharing experiences. Exploring, enjoying, deciding together. We’ll always want space to touch, try and taste. To discover something unexpected. The new winners on the High Street will be brands that offer experiences worth the extra effort of logging off, and coming into town. Those that go the extra mile, when you go out of your way to meet them.