Comment: stop getting hung up on store numbers
Retail is very simply defined as ‘the sale of goods or services from individuals or businesses to the end-user’. This strikes me as being pretty broad and suggests those commentators incessantly talking about the demise of retail on our high streets have got it wrong.
My understanding of this definition means it includes leisure and hospitality along with myriad other services such as nail bars, hairdressers, orthodontic clinics, gyms etc…When we talk about the future of the high street it involves an increasing acceptance that retail is not simply about shops anymore but encompasses a much broader range of businesses.
Consider that a survey from Tyl by NatWest found the perfect high street has a top 10 wish list consisting: bakery, Post Office, restaurant, coffee shop/Café, clothing shops, supermarket, cake shop, book shop, butchers and pub. Now, according to my reckoning this list includes only two of what we would class as a shop whereas the rest fall into various other camps. They are absolutely not in the rigid definition of retail as ascribed by many people.
It should not therefore be seen as a worry that up to 40% of shops must be repurposed in the next five years, according to a survey by Revo and Lambert Smith Hampton, as the demand for goods through physical shops continues to wane. As many as 61% of property related organisations surveyed believe that between 20% and 40% of retail space needs to be reinvented as leisure, hospitality, health or civic use.
In reality, this move has already been underway for some time, judging by the Local Data Company stats that reveal redevelopment of old shop units reached a new high, with over 10,700 units repurposed in 2022, compared with 9,100 in 2021 and 7,300 in 2019. We can see the trend here. These units are being converted into more leisure-focused propositions because that’s what consumers have increasingly been demanding.
I think it is fair to say leisure and hospitality is something of a saviour of the high street. For traditional shops it has increasingly been understood that they have to be about more than just shelves of products to flog, which is why so many have incorporated cafes or other similar elements.
Across the top 650 town centres in the UK the number of leisure units rose by 2.1% in 2022 compared with a reduction of 1.3% for retail shops. Proving particularly popular are drive-thru fast food outlets where demand is very high for the best locations with as many as nine competing bids reportedly battling for the best sites.
I don’t really need to see any more stats because the move towards leisure retail is fully reflected in my local high street in North London where there has been a growing influx of branded food operators. Wendy’s and Wingstop are merely the latest names to announce they will be opening up units in the N8 postcode. There are also developments underway that will add a hotel and residential units onto this high street. Meanwhile, in the nearby shopping centre we have seen the introduction of an NHS Diagnostics centre and an aesthetics clinic will open shortly.
Such changes can be painful for communities but they ultimately have to be embraced because this is absolutely the direction of travel for people’s behaviour and consumption patterns. What might make this evolution a tad easier is if certain parts of the retail industry weren’t quite so hung up on the definition of itself and was less fixated on counting the number of what they define as shops.
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