Your Retail FYP, by UCL

11 Apr 2022

Third time lucky – three high street trends happening RN.

Your Retail FYP, by UCL

With the lockdowns behind us and COVID-19 regulations (almost) gone, it’s back to the high streets we go. At least that’s what a research team from UCL did when they stepped away from their monitors and headed out to ask people what they think about shopping IRL… Enough with the TikTok FYP or YouTube trending page, it’s time to present to you the high streets trending page.

Been down to your local high street lately? Noticed it’s less busy than usual? Simran, aged 22, spotted on Regent Street explained that he “shopped a mixture of online and in-person pre-pandemic but now prefers to shop mostly online”. You can see from the ONS how much internet sales have risen.

Your Retail FYP, by UCL

• So why do we still need high streets? From the interviews conducted, the general consensus was that people want to physically experience products before making a final decision – something not (yet) possible online. For example, Ellen, aged 21, wanted to try on her headphones before purchasing – a key Gen Z trait according to Retail Assist. Ronald, aged 72, mentioned that when it comes to “computers and phones I’ll buy in-person because there is someone to help set it up in the store”. These IRL aspects demonstrate that our high streets are still crucial to everyday consumers, especially in our post-COVID era, which favours multi-sensory experiences.

• Your local high street might look a little different post-lockdown. But don’t get us wrong, your favourite retailers are still knocking about, just not at the same capacity. Consumer spending on Oxford, Regent and Bond Street is only about 60-70% of what it was before COVID. Public transport usage is down as well, at roughly 66% of pre-COVID levels according to the The High Street Tasks Force.

• High streets are transforming into multi-functional places. The Local Government Association agrees, finding that popular retail destinations are ‘reinventing themselves as places of experimentation’. COVID meant that the high street model, through its fragmented ownership, lack of centralised coordination, low rents and high vacancies, has opened a playing field for new starters, WIRED reports. Independent shops can breathe new life into our town centres as community hubs.

To accelerate growth for high streets, local authorities need to expand our city centres with green spaces, pedestrianised areas, and places of more equitable access. There is still a way to go, but in time our streets will once again be places that blur the lines between work, life and enjoyment.

Your Retail FYP, by UCL

That’s right, you heard it: the independents are making moves in our post-pandemic world. These dynamic small businesses are taking over in spades, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon – the Local Data Company states that 8 out of 10 stores have a 3-year survival rate of 70%. Meaning it’s prime time to jump on the bandwagon ‘cos these independents are holding space long-term.

So… what is it about independents that have made them so resilient?

• Firstly, small brands are able to adapt to retail trends and consumer preferences quickly. Since they’re “not accountable to shareholders”, they can take control of decision-making and be nimble. Let’s take a look at Puneet Nanda, CEO of Guru Nanda: He wasted no time in steering his essential oils biz to creating essential oil-based hand sanitiser and masks.

• Independents are diversifying their product rosters like never before. London-based antique shop Les Couilles du Chien, thinks the ability to “offer customers a very personal edit of items from all over the world”, is what makes independents so valuable and unique.

• The community spirit that grew with the pandemic also gave independents a leg up. Felicity, aged 32, stopped on Regent Street said that she makes a “conscious decision” to shop at independent retailers over bigger chain stores. BCG notes that consumers are increasingly more concerned with where their products come from and are “showing strong support for the businesses in their local communities”. For example, shops like independent fishmongers and halal butchers saw an increase of 6.5% and 5% respectively in their number of units, says Local Data Company. And this is only the start.

Whether it be essential oils, furniture, or food, independents have their local communities to thank for a huge part of their survival.

Your Retail FYP, by UCL

Now that most lockdowns are over, we’re all eager to let loose, socialise, and have fun. There is “immense, pent-up demand” for experiential activities, reports Lincoln International. Gone are the days of banana bread or Dalgona coffee (does anyone even remember that?). People want “something that can’t be experienced from home”, explains Centre for Cities analyst Valentine Quinio in MyLondon. Christopher, who travelled from Hackney to Oxford Street, explained that there is a charm to being “among the throng of the people”.

• Other than the precious in-person contact, it looks like good food is something else we’d been missing, as people have been dining out big time. Centre for Cities’ 2022 trend report notes that sales for pubs and restaurants are now higher than pre-pandemic levels. Guess we’re all sick of washing dishes.

• What’s another thing that we’re sick of? Small screens, apparently. In their Consumer Trends Report, Gravy Analytics found that foot traffic for cinemas has been enjoying a steady growth – non-chain theatres ended last year with 35% higher foot traffic, whereas national chains like Regal Cinemas and AMC Theatres reported 73% and 49% respectively. Even after months of home cooking and Netflix bingeing, people are still flocking in droves to restaurants and cinemas. We’re that desperate for things to do.

• If people are already going bananas over typical leisure activities like eating out, just wait till you hear about the trampoline parks. Flip Out, an indoor adventure park operator, has experienced explosive growth in recent years. They currently operate 27 parks around the UK and co-owner Richard Beese shared with The New Statesman that they expect to expand to at least another 100 sites within the next three years. People are jumping at these novel recreational experiences.

So, no matter whether you’re a plain ol’ eatery, or a glitzy new go karting track, there is a chunky slice of pie waiting for you in the post-pandemic experience economy.

So, to sum up: People are roaming on our much-desired high streets again; independents are totally thriving; and new experiences are all the hype. High streets are poppin’ and it’s high time to hop onto the high street trend.

Words by Ajay Chohan, Brendon Koh and Kimya Tehranchian with research supported by Edward Lawrence, Felicity Leung and Francesca Li.