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Analysis

The state of the UK high street in 2019

We may only be in the first half of the 2019 but there has already been a continuation of 2018’s disastrous year for the UK high street. In recent weeks we’ve seen Debenhams slide into administration with other household names like fashion retailer Select and off-license group Oddbins both close behind.

The outlook for the rest of the year isn’t looking much brighter, over 175,000 jobs are projected to be lost from the UK retail sector, according to research by real estate advisers the Altus Group. Retail property values are also likely to also suffer as a result of the continued growth of online shopping.

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those who have been paying attention. There were thousands of store closures were reported throughout 2018 with big brands like Toys R Us, M&S and New Look amongst those that were forced to downsize.

Across the UK in 2018, high street footfall dropped 4.2% which equates to 3 million less shoppers. This is taking a real toll on our retail industry. Recent findings by prominent retail analysts have crunched the numbers and found that this exodus from the high street has led to over 7 million square feet of UK retail space sitting unused.

So, where are the worst affected areas? A 2019 report from retail property advisors Harper Dennis Hobbs has identified the following streets as the hardest hit. Their criteria included the quality of the retail offering and how many vacant units each area had.

  • Shields Road, Byker, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • Stretford, Greater Manchester
  • Kirkby, Merseyside
  • Harrow Road, Greater London
  • Tonypandy, Wales
  • Walton Road, Liverpool
  • Gateshead, Tyne and Wear
  • Renfrew, Scotland
  • Burnt Oak, North London
  • Annan, Dumfries and Galloway

What’s clear from their high street ranking is that the problem isn’t localised. These are issues that are being felt across the entirety of the UK, as planners and retailers are struggling to keep up with changing consumer attitudes.

Research from commercial mortgage brokers ABC Finance Ltd has found that this could be reversed by making some simple changes to the nation’s high streets. Their findings showed that consumers while 75% of Brits are saddened by the declining high street, they’re looking for more experience-driven shopping (20%), an increase in green space for city centres (12%) and a greater choice of food and drink establishments (25%) to tempt them back.

More than half of the people surveyed (56%) would rather spend their money at independent local stores rather than relying on big-name brands.

Digital options are also having a major effect with 38% stating that they do most or all of their shopping online, which is more than the 28% who said they prefer in-store purchases and the 34% who claimed it’s a 50/50 split decision.

This is supported by findings from the Centre for Retail Research which identified businesses like coffee shops, beauty salons and restaurants as thriving whilst more traditional retail staples such as clothing stores, book shops and furniture suppliers are declining.

As consumers increasingly value ‘experiences’ over ‘physical goods’ – we can expect to see this trend continue and the UK’s high streets need to pay attention.

So, what does the rest of 2019 have in store for retail? It’s likely we’ll continue to see the rise of independent retailers that offer a unique shopping experience to customers, larger brands continuing to reduce their physical locations and, with any luck, a revamped approach to retail that brings city centres in the UK back to the bustling hubs of activity that they once were.

Contributed by ABC Finance

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