What Will Be the Role of the High Street in 2020?

Prew Lumley

By Prew Lumley, partner at Squire Patton Boggs

“The High Street is in decline”, “bricks and mortar retailing is dying out”, “online retailing is the future”.

The dire predictions for the High Street have been around for a number of years now and there is no doubt the retail environment is really tough. Stores are empty, landlords are taking a pounding on rents and CVA’s and administrations are increasingly common.

However, I firmly believe that there is still a place for our High Streets and for good retailers trading from traditional bricks and mortar destinations.

It is commonly accepted that one of the keys to success is about the shopper’s experience.

We know that shoppers these days go shopping less frequently, but, when they do go, they are in town for longer. They treat it as a day out, combining it with lunch or dinner or maybe a trip to the cinema.

The more pleasant the experience is for the shopper, whether that is in the street or shopping centre or within stores themselves, the longer the dwell time and the more likely they are to spend their money. In a survey we conducted with Retail Economics, we found that 43% of those polled said that if a retailer offers a meaningful shopping experience in-store they are likely to spend more money with them. 

People still like to shop because they want to touch and feel the goods and to speak to specialist advisers.

However, to win the battle against online, the High Street must offer the hook to pull people in to make up for the perceived ease and convenience of online shopping and the store must deliver on the quality of the shopping experience.

Good collaboration between all the interested parties can trigger real success. A well run shopping centre must concentrate on a mixture of social media, traditional marketing and events to drive footfall, then the store owners must do their part in capitalising on this by well laid out shops staffed by dynamic, knowledgeable employees.

Equally, the local authorities and business improvement districts (BIDs) need to work together to take the same approach to the public space in city centres.

The rise in BIDs (business led and business funded bodies created to improve a defined area) is, in no short measure, a response to the woes of the High Street.

These are being set up in towns and cities as a way of local businesses collaborating to improve their environment and many of these BIDs have retail at their heart.

They can be the catalyst in pulling parties together to animate the High Street and, often, organise events to bring the streets to life and drive footfall. A fantastic example of this was the dinosaur trail in Leeds during summer 2019 – LeedsBID teamed up with three separately owned shopping centres and Leeds Kirkgate Market to create the Leeds Jurassic Trail (an animatronic dinosaur trail), attracting thousands to Leeds through the summer months when often retailing is quiet. 

However, the role of the High Street in large events has to be considered carefully. Large scale events can raise the profile of towns and cities and do wonders for hotel room sales and restaurant bookings, but they also come with a health warning.

Some of the recent regional sporting events hosted in towns and cities have had a very negative impact on retail trading (just ask the shopkeepers of Harrogate about the impact of the UCI Road World Championships on trade over a ten-day period). 


Going forward, the High Street must adapt to survive. We cannot be precious about every building being used for shops, cafes and restaurants. Of course, these are often the most lucrative by way of rental income for landlords, but those landlords (particularly in smaller towns) need to consider taking a lesser rent for a safer covenant.

Equally, the planners and local authorities need to help by being realistic about change of use and issues such as parking. Why not get doctors surgeries, vets, etc., back into the middle of smaller towns to make them more accessible to the public?

Equally, I think there continues to be scope to repurpose some of the edge of town locations for housing, given the ever increasing desire of millennials and Generation Z to live in town.

In conclusion, the High Street in 2020 and beyond can thrive, but there is a big gap between the big cities that have the big name retailers and the larger budgets to pull people in and the smaller towns which will have to be a bit more creative.

Success will rely on flexibility and collaboration on the part of a number of parties to pull together to create an environment and an experience that draws people in.