It may not feel like it right now but believe us when we say the future of the high street is local. A range of technological developments and economic pressures have pushed many small businesses to the brink. However, there are changes ahead which will believe see a reversal of fortunes. Perhaps not in the immediate future but certainly in 5-10yrs, and here’s why.
1. The world population continues to grow. It’s estimated there will be around 8.5 billion people on the planet by 2030. We have a finite space in which to live, work and grow the food we need to eat. Already we are seeing projects in many cities where new living spaces are being combined with retail ones. Towns are developing multiple retail areas rather than a single shopping centre. Rising travel costs and environmental concerns mean that unnecessary journeys, retail and otherwise will be out. People are going to spend more time in their local area. Working, leisure and shopping will become much more localised out of necessity.
2. Those out of town retail parks aren’t going to go away but they will change their purpose. If people don’t want to travel then goods and services will come to them. Storage space will be at a premium on the high street so out of town retail parks will become distribution centres for local populations rather than a gathering of shopfronts to visit. Consumers will use the high street or the internet to order from and delivery will be sent from the distribution centre.
3. The personal touch remains important. Despite fears that the up and coming generations will be wedded to digital transactions, there is evidence to suggest that the opposite will be the case. People who are ‘born digital’ (the under 25’s and the still to arrive) actively seeking ‘real’ experiences to complement their prodigious online consumption. The internet may be the source of most of their mischief but research has shown that shopping continues and will continue to be a desired social activity. The need for human interaction and physical presence during transactions will still be with us.
There’s no doubt that the shape and look of the high street is going through changes. In the short-term, the impact will be seen by closures, downsizing and business re-modelling. But the future for the high street is local, blended and absolutely there for small businesses to thrive in. The time to start thinking about how to leverage these developments is now