The UK has always had a flexible and changeable retail sector. It has some of the most vibrant high streets in the world, with Oxford Street consistently ranked highest in customer reviews. However, recent developments have meant that the appearance of these high streets is once more changing. Information from across the country suggests that we will soon see a different type of high street.
Research from the Independent shows that when buildings in high streets are converted to other uses, they are more often than not converted from retail to another category. In fact, almost two-thirds of applications in 2018/19 requested permission from councils to convert shops into restaurants and takeaways. Even more starkly, the data also shows that far less attempt the opposite – very few applications sought to convert restaurants or takeaways into retail space.
So what’s to blame? Recent changes in the way retail works may be partly responsible, with more and more customers opting for online shopping. This means that larger retail businesses are left with too much retail space, with many of their shoppers only coming in-store to pick up online orders. Increasingly smaller businesses are moving entirely online, opting out of the running costs that a high street retail store entails, and keeping more profit. This has meant that there is plenty of retail space on the high street up for grabs.
But what about the restaurants? Takeaways and restaurants have seen an almost opposite trend, with councils seeing an upsurge in the amount of applications they get to convert to restaurant-friendly space on our high streets. Hot food takeaways particularly showed an increase in growth, and despite some difficulties that big restaurant chains have fallen into lately, there remains a high demand for food-based premises.
However, Direct Line’s Jemma Holloway points out that “10 million people live just a short walk away from a local high street”, and it is incredibly important for the health of our high streets that people make use of them. In order to support small online businesses to get back into the retail space on the high street, Direct Line is promoting a line of high street pop-up shops. These ‘Clicks and Mortar’ shops are designed to be easy to use shops that will enable independent retail businesses in sustaining a presence in the heart of our high streets.