There’s no doubt that high streets around the UK have been hit hard by the pandemic.
The challenges faced by retailers up and down the country have been well documented over the last 12 months as the general public were told to stay at home in an effort to tackle the global coronavirus pandemic.
Some of the biggest names in retail have fallen victim to declining footfall which has been accelerated by Covid-19 – as an increasing number of shoppers go online to make their purchases.
Of course, some areas have been hit harder than others.
But it would be fair to say that only a handful of the UK’s major towns and cities have been able to emerge completely unscathed from the various lockdowns and ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
So what does a typical British high street look like post-pandemic?
The West Midlands city of Stoke-on-Trent is just one example of how the high street has changed over the last year.
In just 12 months, the city – better known as The Potteries – has seen big-name stores including Debenhams, Go Outdoors, The Body Shop and Greggs, as well as the Arcadia Group’s Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Miss Selfridge brands, abandon the city centre.
And this week, M&S followed suit by announcing it will close its Hanley store in August – putting more than 60 jobs at risk.
Stoke-on-Trent-based retail expert Ian Kelsall – who used to work at M&S’s Upper Market Square store – believes that British high streets are ‘under pressure’ because of changing shopping habits.
He said: “The high street has been under pressure for some time now and that pressure is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
“City centre businesses and town centre representatives need to carry on working together to give visitors and shoppers more reasons to visit and to carry on visiting.
“Yesterday’s solutions will not satisfy today’s needs. The world is changing and customer’s expectations are too.”
He added: “If visitors have a great customer experience, if they feel understood and have their needs consistently catered for by the businesses that remain, they will vote with their feet and spend their hard-earned money with those businesses.
“City centre’s that do this well will become much more attractive.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Centre BID manager Jonathan Bellamy believes that there is still a future for the high street.
He said: “The truth is, retail shops on our high streets have been declining for years.
“We’re living through a seismic change. We are seeing the loss of brands that have not adjusted to new consumer habits and have struggled to survive. But that will bottom out.
“New brands will emerge capable of delivering both a strong online offer and a quality service and experience in their physical stores -because we want both. We want the ease of online service, but we also need the social interaction, energy and joyful shared experiences of visiting our stores.”
Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, added: “The future of our town and city centres will be leisure. People will come to have a day out rather than to shop, and it is about pivoting the city centre to that new future. That is what is going to save the high streets.”