Independent retailers optimistic about future of the great British high street


More than half of the nation’s independent high street retailers are optimistic about the future of their local high street – and four out of five shoppers would miss their local high street if it was no longer there.

That’s according to new research to launch the Government-run Great British High Street Awards 2018, sponsored by Visa. The research commissioned by Visa reveals that despite recent negative economic forecasts and high-profile retail chain closures:

  • Four in ten (40.7%) independent retailers describe themselves as ‘optimistic’ about the future of their local high street and more than one in ten (12.3%) are ‘very optimistic’ about the future of their local high street;
  • Less than one in five (17.1%) feel pessimistic about the future of their high street.

The research findings also show being part of a local community (41%) and building relationships with customers (29%) are what retailers enjoy most about running their business, with retailer sentiment towards the high street most positive in the East of England – 61% say they are optimistic or very optimistic about the future of their high street, with areas including the South West, South East and the West Midlands close behind, at 55%, 54% and 54% respectively.

But the view from shoppers is less positive, with only around a quarter (27.1%) describing their high street as ‘improving’ and one in five (21.3%) claiming there aren’t enough shops and services on it to meet their needs.

And nearly two thirds (63%) say they feel ‘neutral’ or ‘not very optimistic’ about the future of their high street – despite a majority of consumers (70.4%) visiting their local high street at least once a week, with one in 10 (9.2%) visiting every day.

However, 81% of people would miss their local high street if it no longer existed – and a similar number believe it is the people they meet there, in terms of both shoppers and retailers, that makes it what it is.

Asked what would encourage consumers to visit their high street more and over half (51.9%) said more shops, over a third (36%) said better parking or transport facilities and more than a quarter (27.8%) said extended opening hours.

Communities secretary Rt Hon. James Brokenshire MP said at today’s launch: “The Great British High Street Awards acknowledge in a very important way how high streets are so vital to our nation. High streets are crucial in creating jobs, nurturing small businesses and driving local and regional economies. We want to celebrate the best examples of high streets, as well as those individual businessmen and women playing a leading role.

“The Government is doing everything in our power to ensure high streets continue to thrive.”

Suzan Kereere, head of merchant services, Europe, Visa, added: “Visa is very proud to be supporting the Great British High Street Awards at a time when the nation’s high streets are transforming as both technology and consumer behaviour evolve, with consumers looking for a range of different experiences on their high streets. Businesses and communities have shown themselves to be highly adaptable, resilient and creative in meeting these demands.

“Visa is committed to finding innovative ways to support merchants and consumers and helping communities and economies to thrive. High street merchants help to establish and preserve bonds within communities that are as valuable as the economic benefits they generate.”

Regionally, the Great British High Street Awards 2018 research also reveals:

  • Independent retailers in East Anglia are the most optimistic about the future of the high street, compared to those in Manchester who are the least optimistic;
  • Wales is the place most likely to see a big rise in high street coffee shops over the next five years, according to local independent traders, while Scotland will most likely see high street shops converted into housing or office space over the same period;
  • Independent retailers in Yorkshire are the most likely to use social media platforms as ways to engage with customers;
  • Shoppers in the West Midlands are the most likely to say they’ve seen more improvement in local high streets than anywhere else, while those in Northern Ireland have the least optimistic outlook when it comes to their high streets.

The Great British High Street Awards 2018, which are being run by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, sponsored by Visa and backed by other partners, is recognising and celebrating local achievements on our high streets and supporting the communities in which we live and work.

The initiative includes a competition to find the nation’s best high streets, with winners being named in England, Scotland, Wales and – for the first time – Northern Ireland, across two categories: the Champion and Rising Star awards. An overall winner will also be named.

It was announced at today’s launch that author and TV presenter Simon Reeve will be a judge for the Great British High Street Awards 2018.

Simon Reeve said: “I’ve spent the last 16 years travelling around the world and investigating what is happening in other countries, so I’m really looking forward to being a bit closer to home and meeting the unsung heroes helping the nation’s high streets to thrive.”

In 2016, Blackburn in Lancashire was crowned the Great British High Street winner thanks to the determination of the community and local businesses who worked in partnership to drive improvements and overcome the challenges their high street was facing.

This year, winners of the Champion High Street award, celebrating the UK’s best high streets, will be named in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with an overall national winner also selected. Four Rising Star High Streets – high streets that are taking the lead and working to adapt and diversify – will also be named. Shortlisted entries will be announced in September 2018.