Independent retailers change face of High Street

The High Street is one of the great British institutions – and like all successful establishments, it is adapting to meet a new set of challenges.

New figures from Simply Business suggest that the High Street is “going boutique”, its character changing in order to compete with shopping centres and to attract increasingly discerning customers.

We analysed over 30,000 independent retailers across the country, and found that the face of the British High Street is changing. Although previously the preserve of traditional stalwarts like cafes, pubs, and takeaways, the High Street is gradually burgeoning into a haven for increasingly astute customers looking for something different.

Specialist outlets such as health food shops and tea rooms are gradually making the High Street their own. There has also been a significant growth in the number of retailers that place a high degree of importance on consumer experience – for example, old-fashioned sweet shops.

It is well known that the High Street faces significant challenges. Retailers have suffered as consumers’ belts have continued to tighten. Recent figures from the British Retail Consortium suggest that footfall is down by some 5.5 per cent.

But independent retailers are showing their true spirit, and responding to these difficult circumstances with aplomb. The increase in the number of specialist retailers suggests that entrepreneurs are reacting dynamically to a new consumer landscape, in which customers are increasingly looking for unique, one-off purchases and experiences.

There is also some welcome reassurance in a world increasingly dominated by the supermarkets. Butchers and bakeries both increased in number despite the challenging environment, suggesting that consumers still have an appetite for produce sold by independent establishments. Meanwhile recession-friendly ‘make it yourself’ outlets have also fared well, with the numbers of fabric shops, home baking shops, and arts and crafts retailers all increasing.

The economic outlook remains difficult. But by reacting to new consumer trends, independent outlets are cementing their position on the retail landscape.

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