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Should you return to the high street?

Written by James Gray on Tuesday, 14 July 2020. Posted in Audience, Sales & Marketing

As we are slowly encouraged to return to pre-Covid normality, many businesses with a focus on brick and mortar stores are starting to look at reopening

Should you return to the high street?

As we are slowly encouraged to return to pre-Covid normality, many businesses with a focus on brick and mortar stores are starting to look at reopening, or evaluating their new business position and how to move forward in an uncertain climate. In this new normality, high street shopping is having to adapt to radically different conditions, including the experiences and expectation of consumers. Whilst high street retail space has shrunk over the last few years and, according to accountancy giant KPMG, will reduce by over 25% by 2022, ecommerce sales (and businessess) have only grown - particularly during a lockdown that kept people from their usual shopping experiences.

 So should businesses try to return to the old-normal, chain-dominated highstreets? Or, could they use this opportunity to institute a new paradigm - reducing their high street presence to focus on delivering high quality online shopping experiences, and a smaller number of quality-over-quantity brick and mortar stores offering something new and better to consumers?


The Covid crisis has seen huge changes in shopping habits, particularly with the limited availability of shopping options. Recent research revealed by Deloitte suggests upwards of  Fifty-nine percent of UK consumers have shopped in more local stores since lockdown, in order to help support them, and a similar number are becoming more mindful of spending in local communities and on locally-sourced products from less local businesses - with 57% suggesting they’d continue the trend after lockdown measures are eased.

This new attitude has been combined with a huge increase in demand for ecommerce shopping options (driven, at least in part, by necessity), as well as the rapid development of supporting infrastructure to deal with the demand across a huge spectrum of products and needs - and has allowed independent businesses to survive and even thrive in an arena still dominated by online giants.

The increase in online shopping and a shift to a predominantly digital brand presence has also changed how brands communicate online - if this is your only point of contact with your customers, and they are visiting your digital profiles more often, your messaging must become more natural and more engaging. The subsequent rise in so-called “thoughtful marketing” has encouraged brands to humanise their marketing, looking again at the popularity of independent stores with a more personal approach to their customers. With retail giants that are simply too big for this approach to truly work either paying lip-service to the idea, or continuing with their standard marketing communication, smaller brands have been able to increase customer satisfaction (and loyalty) despite the lack of physical contact or in-store experiences.

The desire from consumers for local shopping experiences and a more ‘independent’ attitude towards communication should be key lessons for brands looking to return to the highstreet when isolation measures are eased. By pivoting from quantity, whether of floor space or locations, to an emphasis on quality and community integration, brands could help to restore the idea of a local highstreet that serves and is served by the locality - rather than offering one of hundreds of identical shopping experiences that are disconnected from their location and their customers.

Supporting this change may seem like a challenge. Brick and mortar, high street presence, and prestige locations have dominated retail strategy for decades, and some of the most popular brands in a variety of sectors have developed entirely through their physical presence. By moving away from this paradigm, brands risk losing visibility and important footfall that allows them to grow.

The provision of fast, dependable online shopping from brands has, in recent years, devastated highstreet stalwarts, and driven the development of ecommerce to new heights. The current level of support for ecommerce solutions is unparalleled, and the acceptance of online shopping over physical locations has only become more ubiquitous. Even if you return to the ‘old normal’ highstreet, continuing to develop and improve your digital offering can only help to improve business, and allows you to test messaging for your in store experiences.

The greatest innovators of the next stage of the high street experience now have the ultimate reason (as well as timing) to completely change the paradigm, and offer something better for their customers. Combining robust, reliable online ecommerce solutions with human, caring messaging that appeals to customers; moving away from watered down, copy & paste physical stores to high quality, community-based shopping that offers an experience and engagement rather than bland browsing.

About the Author

James Gray

James Gray

James Gray is a classically-trained marketer with a passion for all things digital and an unequivocal love of data. He’s Head of Digital at Wonderful, and has crafted data-driven digital strategies for B2B and B2C clients. These include global brands such as Virgin and Mazda, as well as some of Britain’s market-leaders like LEVC and Deltic.

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