‘Fears about the death of UK’s high streets are overplayed’

The Grove, in Ilkley
The Grove, in Ilkley
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FEARS ABOUT the death of the high street have been overplayed because more entrepreneurs are establishing independent shops around Britain, according to the UK head of retail and wholesale at banking giant Barclays.

Richard Lowe told a Yorkshire audience that the prospects for many high streets are improving, thanks to the growth of click and collect services and the emergence of more butchers and delicatessens.

Mr Lowe said he had never shared the pessimism of some commentators, who had predicted that many high streets would die due to the growth of online shopping.

In fact, Mr Lowe said, we aren’t faced with “swathes of empty units all over the place” and the best retail centres are getting better. But he stressed that trends such as the growing use of smartphones and tablets underlined the fact that power now lies with “savvy shoppers and the value they are seeking”.

Mr Lowe made the comments during a breakfast seminar held at the Double Tree by Hilton in Leeds, where he analysed the latest research into the future of m-commerce; retail activity driven by the use of mobile devices.

His study found that consumers are set to spend £53.6bn a year using their smartphones and tablets by 2024, compared with the £9.7bn spent today. Last year, around three per cent of all retail sales, by value, were made via a mobile device. This figure is set to rise to 9.1 per cent by 2019. With more people visiting stores to collect their mobile purchases, retailers have the opportunity to encourage further sales once consumers arrive on their premises, the report says.

After the presentation, Mr Lowe told The Yorkshire Post: “The high street is also a really important part of the community, it’s not just about having shops; it’s about can you get people back into the community?”

He said local councils were working hard to create a sense of community on their high streets, by encouraging more libraries and coffee shops.

He added: “There’s definitely a trend of the independents opening shops..the butchers are coming back to the high street, because people like authentic food.

“Provenance is a really important part of that, but also that you actually know these people. This is about relationships. You know the butcher, you know the delicatessen.. They are giving you personal advice and personal service and that’s what people really want. If they want to buy other things, then clearly the supermarkets will remain important. But this is another angle - the need to find a point of differentiation in your local community. But also, don’t forget, even the local stores can use the internet and mobile technology to become a national retailer from your local high street.”

Although shoppers will use mobile devices to carry out research, “you still see the pattern of people walking down high streets, seeing shops and stopping”.

“Visual merchandising is very important. Retail is theatre. As long as the theatre continues and people do a really good job, you will stop and look at that shop window and say, ‘I like that’.

“It is the shop window to the world.”