The 2020 high street report

Britain’s iconic high street has faced many challenges over the years, none greater than the coronavirus pandemic. But its resilience and chameleon-like ability to change has meant that despite devastating losses it is far from being lost.

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An illustration of a future high street which includes the bakers, a sustainable shop, a family butchers, a click-and-collect store, and al fresco dining.

As consumers begin spending again, brands will have to adjust to the new requirements and demands of a post-coronavirus shopper. The brands that survive will be those who embrace change. The brands that struggle to adapt will face a very uncertain future and may disappear from the high street forever.

To celebrate its history, review the impact of COVID-19 on present day high street brands and envision what the high street could look like in the next few years, the consumer spending experts at money.co.uk have created The 2020 High Street Report.

Report summary

  • Four out of five of the high street's most popular brands were founded in the UK.

  • The UK’s oldest high street brands can trace their history back to the late 18th century.

  • More bricks-and-mortar retailers have gone into administration this year (by June 2020), than in the whole of 2019. Many of these firms have said the impact of COVID-19 was the ‘last straw’ for them.

  • Independent experts predict that we will see 20,620 retail store closures by the end of 2020, resulting in over 235,700 job losses. That’s an average of 56 closures a day.

  • The South East of England (outside London) is the UK region which has seen the biggest number of high street store closures since lock down began.

  • Almost 3 in 5 shoppers have said they are more likely to shop at stores selling locally-produced goods once lockdown is fully lifted, compared to before the pandemic hit the UK.

  • Al Fresco dining is likely to surge, with around a third of Britons saying they would be more likely to use a pub or restaurant’s garden, than sit indoors.

The birthplace of the high street

Using data gathered on 110 of the UK’s favourite brands*, we have mapped the founding locations to find out which region has produced the most high street names:

91 of the 110 UK’s most popular brands were founded in the UK. Of which nearly half (40) were founded in London. 

Outside of the capital, the North West is the home to the second highest number of top high street brands, accounting for nine of the brands we know and love - including retail powerhouses JD Sports, Matalan and jeweller H. Samuel.

Here’s the breakdown of where the most popular UK brands* originate:

Meanwhile, 19 of our most loved high street brands hail from outside the UK:

How many stores do these brands have together across the UK?

Our study used the locations of the stores to determine where the most high street brands come from, but which region has given the UK the largest number of stores?

With 40 brands established in the capital, it’s unsurprising that brands founded in London have by far the largest number of stores across the UK, at over 9,800.

Meanwhile, despite only being home to four high street brands, the North East of England ranks second for the highest number of UK stores. Boosted by the likes of Tyneside-founded Greggs, which has almost 2,000 branches, the North East has given the UK over 3,100 stores. 

Surprisingly, the Channel Islands ranks in 10th place, ahead of Scotland, despite our study only noting one high street brand originating from the region. Specsavers, known for their sight and hearing services, was founded in 1984 on Guernsey and has since opened over 800 stores in the UK.

Here are the number of branch stores broken down by the region they were founded:

Did you know:

  • According to the Ordnance Survey there are 6,969 individually-named shopping streets in Great Britain

  • Around a third of registered addresses on Britain’s high streets are occupied by retail shops

  • The longest high street in the UK is London Road in Southend-on-Sea, which covers a distance of nearly three kilometres (2,983 metres)

The Oldest UK High Street Brands:

Out of the 20 oldest UK high street brands in our study, 18 have their origins in England, with 10 of these being founded in London.

The oldest brand in our study is the jewellery chain Goldsmiths, which was founded in Newcastle in the late 18th century. H. Samuel and Ernest Jones, two other high street jewellers, are also within the top 20 oldest UK brands.

Despite these brands standing the test of time for several hundred years, five of the UK’s oldest high street names - Debenhams, Ernest Jones, H. Samuel, John Lewis & Partners, and Laura Ashley - have announced permanent closures of some or all of their stores during lockdown.

How COVID-19 closures have affected the high street

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s high streets were facing massive pressures, along with some tough questions about their collective future. The rise in convenient online retail combined with tough post-Christmas trading and controversial business rates rules, had already placed many in a difficult position.

However, the lack of footfall during lockdown and the continuing costs associated with renting bricks and mortar stores, has put a larger strain on the already struggling high street. 

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has described the coronavirus lockdown as a ‘hammer blow against the [retail] sector’ and has readjusted its forecast for closures and job losses for 2020 as a result. The CRR now estimates that this year will be the toughest year for closures and job losses since 2008/9, with forecasts predicting 235,704 job losses and 20,620 store closures by the end of the year. That’s a shocking average of 56 store closures a day.

With high streets reopening as lockdown restrictions are lifted, money.co.uk has analysed which brands have weathered the COVID-19 storm, and those who have sadly been unable to keep operating.

According to the analysis from the Centre for Retail Research (CRR), 38 medium and large UK retailers have gone into administration or significantly scaled back their operations this year. The majority of these firms went bust after the COVID-19 lockdown came into force in mid-March. 

We analysed the collapse of ten high street brands, and where their stores have been closed or put at risk, to identify which area of the UK will be hit the hardest by the closures.

Store closures across the UK

Here, we’ve examined brands which have over 50 stores and where we can confirm the locations of the stores:

  • Bella Italia 

  • Brighthouse

  • Cafe Rouge 

  • Cath Kidston 

  • Debenhams

  • Las Iguanas

  • Laura Ashley 

  • Monsoon/Accessorize 

  • Oasis

  • Quiz 

The 30 worst affected towns & cities:

Worst affected regions

We’ve grouped the affected towns and cities into regions. Despite London being the worst affected town/city, when considered in comparison to other regions of the UK, the South East of England is expected to have the most vacant high street units.

The future of the high street

Although the picture looks pretty bleak for retailers and hospitality businesses operating from bricks and mortar stores, the empty spaces left by high street shops and restaurant chains does present an opportunity. 

Different businesses can now make a greater mark on our much-loved shopping streets.

Here are the four trends, which suggest what the high street may look like in the future:

1. Shopping local 

Almost three in five British consumers have made more use of local stores in their area to help them through the Coronavirus lockdown, according to research from business consultancy Deloitte Digital.

The study from late May 2020, also found that almost the same proportion said they will be more likely to spend at shops offering locally-produced goods once the lockdown has fully lifted, compared to before the pandemic hit.

So we’re likely to see a change in shopping habits, with customers more likely to shop local. 

2. Click and collect (with physical changing rooms)

Retailers who are able to offer a better customer experience beyond just online delivery are likely to be in a strong position once lockdown measures are eased.

Fashion retail offers an interesting glimpse into the future. While online ‘fitting rooms’ are increasing in popularity, one emerging trend is the introduction of physical fitting rooms at ‘click and collect’ points.

This means that customers can quickly try on clothes and return them easily if they are not quite right. This approach has the added benefit for retailers of getting stock returned quickly and in great condition, ready to be put back on sale at full price.

Elsewhere, Argos has seen an 8% jump in sales made using the ‘click and collect’ function in the year to 7 March 2020, according to the company’s latest annual results.

3. Al Fresco Dining 

A third of Brits say they’ll spend more on eating out than they did before lockdown, according to polling from YouGov in May.

Meanwhile, research from mid-June also found that punters will be much keener to use pub gardens than to eat and drink inside these facilities. 

With more people excited about experiencing hospitality outdoors, it looks like Al Fresco dining could be the way forward in a post-COVID world.

4. Zero Waste & Sustainable Shopping

Even before the pandemic hit, shoppers and diners had been making their voices heard about how goods and services end up in their hands. 

Customers’ concerns about sustainability, treatment of supply chain workers, and farming standards have been a powerful force in changing the behaviours of retailers and the wider service sector.

Some 24% of consumers surveyed by EY Future Consumer Index in April said that they will pay more for ethical products.

A separate study found that 64% of its 3,000 respondents (across 15 countries including the UK) were focusing more on limiting food waste and would continue to do so after the pandemic is over.

The research, carried out by the consultancy Accenture last month, also found that shoppers are prioritising personal hygiene and cleaning products, while spending less on fashion, beauty and consumer electronics.

Conclusion

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly altered the way in which we shop, interact and live our day-to-day lives. As non-essential shopping has shifted from a leisurely activity to one which comes with social-distancing restrictions, it is unsurprising that some businesses have struggled to stay afloat. 

The long-term impacts of coronavirus are yet to materialise, but one thing for certain is that the pandemic has changed the great British high street forever.

Where the high street may once have been home to major fashion and retail brands, shifts in consuming spending may see the spaces repopulated with sustainable and ethical stores that cater for a new way of shopping.

As online shopping sales continue to boom, click-and-collect may find itself a permanent fixture on Britain’s high streets.

Instead of large chain restaurants, individual eateries with outside space may suit the British public as they look to buy local and stay socially-distanced. 

Although its appearance and the brands which live on our shopping streets will change over the coming years, the role of the high street as a central pillar for leisure and employment will continue to live on in one form or another.

Paying on the high street

If you’re planning to head out to the high street in the coming weeks, you’ll likely be encouraged to use contactless payments in order to minimise the contact with retail staff. 

If you are planning to borrow money to finance your shopping, you could consider a credit card. A credit card requires regular repayments and can accrue interest if you do not pay back the full amount.

Find the best credit card for you, whether you're looking for 0% card for balance transfers or purchases or day to day spending and rewards

Methodology and data sources:

Defining the high street:  

According to a report by the Ordnance Survey and the Office for National Statistics, there are approximately 6,969 individually-named shopping streets in Great Britain.

The Ordnance Survey defines a high street as 15 retail units within 150 metres.

56% of the high street’s addresses are residential, 30% are retailing, 10% are offices, 2-3% are leisure and community.

*Defining the UK’s most popular ‘high street brands’:

We have defined a high street brand as one that has over 50 stores across the UK.

Brands which are not traditionally found at industrial/retail parks such as, large DIY retailers were not included in the report.

We define the most popular retail brands using seed lists from YouGov.

We define the most popular high street cafes, restaurants and fast food chains using seed lists from YouGov and Wiki OpenStreetMap.

** Founding locations were taken from the brands' own website or verified by third party reports. Seven brands' founding locations in the UK could not be found and were not included in this analysis.

*** Information regarding the number of stores was taken from the brands’ ‘about’ page or 'careers' section. Where this has not been possible, we have aimed to verify the founding location using multiple third party articles. Numbers are pre-coronavirus closures.

Seed Source Lists:

Retail, Fashion & Clothing Brands:

https://yougov.co.uk/ratings/consumer/popularity/retail-brands/all

https://yougov.co.uk/ratings/consumer/popularity/fashion-clothing-brands/all

Food & Drink:

https://wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Retail_chains_in_the_United_Kingdom#Food_and_Drink

https://yougov.co.uk/ratings/food/popularity/dining-brands/all

Founding Dates & Locations:

Information regarding the founding dates and locations where possible were taken from the brands’ ‘About’ page or careers section. Where this has not been possible, we have aimed to verify the founding location using multiple third party articles.

For 7 brands founded in the UK, we were unable to pinpoint their exact founding locations. These have been listed within the most popular brands, but have not been included in the analysis of founding locations or number of stores.

Where the exact location of the establishment could not be found, the location of the first store has been used. 

When dating the founding of a business we have, where possible, used the earliest trace of the company.

Groups such as, The Casual Dining Group and Arcadia, which own several brands, have been separated and treated as individual high street brands.

Number of stores:

In order to calculate which region has given the UK the largest number of stores, we analysed the number of UK stores for each brand. Information regarding the number of stores was taken from the brands’ ‘about’ page or 'careers' section. Where this has not been possible, we have aimed to verify the founding location using multiple third party articles.

The number of stores includes all stores in the UK for that brand. Several stores list their number as ‘more than X number of stores’, therefore each of the numbers listed is a minimum number of stores for the region.

Coronavirus Closures:

Starting with the list of Who’s Gone Bust from the Centre for Retail Research, we filtered the list to only include those which have gone bust during lockdown, and those which have over 50 stores across the UK.

We collated the store lists from the brands' website, or where this was not possible from third party reporting. The sources we used are cited below.

For some brands it was not possible to confirm the locations of their stores and we have not included these in our report.

When analysing the locations of the closures/stores at risk, we removed those which were in out-of-town shopping centres, airports and Centre Parcs.

Centre for Retail Research seed list: https://www.retailresearch.org/whos-gone-bust.html

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