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High street retail in the United Kingdom (UK) - Statistics & Facts

The high street is the heart of many English towns and cities, traditionally where people can find their everyday needs, such as retail stores, cafes and restaurants, banks, groceries, and other local businesses. It is where consumers can shop for their favourite brands, such as Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, and Boots. With Oxford Street, Regent Street and Covent Garden, London has some of the most frequented high streets in all of Europe. In a study released in 2021, 82 percent of consumers in the United Kingdom said that they would care at least a bit if their local high street disappeared. However, that is a possibility they face, as high street retail has suffered over the past years.

Declining popularity

One of the biggest changes associated with the retail industry in recent years has been the rapid growth in e-commerce sales. This has created a large degree of uncertainty about traditional shopping formats, as many retailers worry about the future of the brick-and-mortar store. In the United Kingdom (UK) concerns about the future of the high street are ever-present, with online sales now accounting for over one quarter of the country’s total retail sales. These worries have been consolidated by declining footfall and sales figures seen on the high street in recent years. Even before the coronavirus crisis hit, footfall in high streets was decreasing. There were similar declines experienced in the growth of high street sales in 2017 and 2018, although there was a slight increase in like-for-like sales in 2019, before the pandemic started.

Store closures

A symptom of declining sales and footfall has been the increasing number of store closures across in the country. Within the past decade, a number of well-known high street businesses closed shop, such as BHS, Thomas Cook and Debenhams. This pattern was accelerated by the pandemic: 2020 was the worst year for the number of failing medium and large retail companies since 2012. In 2021, the lowest net openings and closures of British multiple retailers was recorded, although the rate of decrease had slowed dramatically in comparison to previous years.

Consumer opinions

So, despite their professed fondness for the high street, consumers in the United Kingdom haven't matched it with their footfall. There are however advantages of the high street that motivate consumers to shop there, primarily convenience, but also the ability to try products, support the local community, and the nearby cafes and restaurants. When it comes to consumers' own suggestions to improve the high street, the leading answers were to add more shops, with one quarter of respondents wanting more independent shops, and almost a third suggesting an increased number of well-known shops. The shops that consumers in the UK would most like to see on their high street were Primark, Amazon, and John Lewis.

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