We provided post mounted entrance and monolith external signage for the University of the West of England. Read the case study.
Since the coming of the industrial revolution, the high street has been a cornerstone of British life. It is a place to shop, a place to see and be seen, and a place that provides vital jobs, goods, and services to the community.
However, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, high street retail numbers were declining. Physical retailers have struggled to compete with the convenience of online shopping.
The pandemic has only accelerated these trends. Thirty-eight UK chains went into administration in 2020, with more likely to follow. This tumultuous year simply dealt the final blow in a process that was already underway.
But all is not lost on the high street. The success of some local revitalisation efforts provides a model for what a thriving high street may look like.
As we begin to emerge from the pandemic slowly, here’s how the high street can thrive in 2021 and beyond.
How Can the High Street Embrace Change?
There are many steps that local councils, shop owners, and community leaders can take to ensure the high street emerges from lockdown stronger than ever.
Below are three aspects that successful high streets can focus on to ensure a successful COVID recovery for our businesses.
Experiences to Remember
Humans are social creatures, and the experiential aspects of the high street – the sights, sounds, and smells of a diverse cross-section of humanity – can never be recreated online.
With that in mind, high street retailers will have to look to the unique experiences they offer that the internet cannot match. These include:
- Local festivals, such as arts festivals and Christmas parades
- Community events, such as outdoor film screenings
- Social experiences, such as escape rooms and interactive art exhibits
Treorchy High Street, in south Wales, has focused on these aspects to great success. It was crowned the UK’s best high street in the 2019 Great British High Street Awards.
For their part, retailers will have to refocus on experiences. “Experiential retail” was a buzzword of the late 2010s. Though it took a hit in the pandemic, many still believe the future of shops rests in providing an experience specific to the physical world.
This does not necessarily have to be a splashy, Instagram-friendly shopping experience. Friendly and experienced shop assistants and attractive decorations and signage can all do their part to make a space memorable, beautiful, and preferable to a website.
Smaller, more attractively curated retail shops such as bookstores were thought to be casualties of the digital age. But by focusing on the browsing experience and their staff’s expertise, they have begun to come back stronger than ever.
The social and sensual aspects of shopping continue to be important to consumers. By focusing on those aspects, high street shopping can continue to find success, even after weathering both the growth of the internet and a year of lockdown.
Repurposing and Reusing
Many high street retailers’ potential end reveals a surfeit of new space waiting to be reclaimed for new uses. The bones of monolithic old chain stores can be used to house smaller, more community-oriented shops and restaurants.
Building purposes can be combined in unique and exciting ways. In Wrexham, a struggling covered market with more space than it needed was integrated with an art gallery and performance space. Now, market units sit side by side with galleries and spaces to relax, creating a high street or town square in a microcosm.
The building, called Tŷ Pawb (“Everyone’s House”), now makes efficient use of a once-empty space. The result is a pleasurable place to both shop and linger in.
Not all repurposing must take the form of such impressive undertakings. Under new laws in the UK, it is now easier to repurpose vacant commercial buildings into homes. Though the pandemic has led to an exodus from cities, the lure of affordable spaces on the high street may lure renters back.
Working from home is becoming more common and is likely to persist even in a post-pandemic world. As workers spend more time at home, the thought of stepping out of the house to grab a coffee, socialise, or peek into the shops may be an unexpected asset and a much-needed break.
Blending Online and Offline
The pandemic forced many retailers to bring the internet into their existing business practices. Now those changes are likely to become permanent.
Click and collect may become the norm for certain retailers. Why waste time looking for the right aisle to find a small item when you can simply walk in and grab it, prepaid?
Integrating the best aspects of online and offline shopping will also be crucial for retailers in the future. For instance, clothes shopping has seen a major shift to online, where the selection and prices often beat those of the high street. However, returning clothing that does not fit and waiting for a replacement is a significant difficulty in online shopping.
A high street adaptation to this could be integrating click and collect with onsite fitting rooms and size replacements to leave the customer satisfied on the day of purchase. This is just one area where the physical world offers a distinct advantage.
High Street Shopping and the Future
The recent years’ widespread changes have been difficult for everyone but offer great opportunities for new businesses and new ideas to thrive. The high street has existed for hundreds of years.
Like in the past, it will continue to endure and adapt in its place as the beating heart of British urban life.
A smaller, more locally-oriented high street shop will have to distinguish itself with a striking sign. In the age of social media, it is more important than ever for shops to leave a strong visual impression.
We specialise in shop front signs, with 60 years of experience. If you run a high street shop, consider sending us an enquiry. As the streets begin to open back up and life returns to normal, there’s no better way to celebrate than with a beautiful new sign.