With many younger people now opting to do the majority of their shopping online, does high street shopping actually hold a place in the future?

It is no secret that the high street was already facing a sharp decline before the pandemic even began.

COVID-19 only accelerated the already ongoing decay of physical retail shops, forcing the pre-emptive closure of many big-name brands such as Debenhams or Topshop.

This is mostly due to the fact that younger people seem to overwhelming prefer browsing/purchasing products online from the comfort of their own homes rather than making the in-person trips to stores themselves.

Because of this changing target market, each day, more and more retail companies are opting to move their businesses online in order to adapt to the times.

Faster, easier and more convenient to shop online

There are many reasons why younger people tend to gravitate to online shopping. Primarily, it’s all comes down to the cost. The never-ending quest for students to save money is perhaps more important now than ever.

This is certainly true for 20-year-old David Reynard. David has always prefered the convenient and quick nature of shopping online. “Overall, I would say that online shopping is just so much easier for me personally,” he said.

“Shops obviously close at a certain time each day, but online stores remain open 24/7 so you can really shop whenever you feel like it.

“Everybody loves to save money. It might just be at the moment, but most items certainly feel cheaper online when compared to buying them in-store.

“Also, there is no walking about and its just so hassle-free. Maybe people are lazier these days, but online shopping can allow you to just sit in your room and browse for hours on end without ever leaving your house.

“Some shops might be miles away from each other but you can pretty much go between various different websites in a matter of seconds.

“Because of this, it’s also much easier to price-check and shop around now to make sure you are getting the best deals. There are even dedicated websites that exist purely to help people find the cheapest place to buy something.

“There is also no restrictions. The Internet now lets you buy items from other countries and have them shipped to you. In years gone by, it was previously the case that you would be purely limited to what was sold in your country only,” he added.

Shopping during lockdown

When asked why he thought online shopping had flourished under lockdown, David explained: “Due to being stuck inside, people just seem to have more time on their hands now.

“Shopping is a comforting activity for many people, online shopping lets people keep up that activity safely and gives them back a sense of normality during these uncertain times.

“People are also probably scared about catching [COVID-19] if they leave the house so would feel safer in doing all their shopping from home and having it delivered to them instead.”

However, David did recognise that some people prefer certain aspects of traditional shopping trips as he said: “I do realise why some people may miss the social experience of going in-store with their friends or family as you can’t really replicate that online.”

According to Google Trends, online shopping in the UK hit a five-year peak in March 2020 – the beginning of the first national lockdown.

The current state of shopping centres

A look at how one West London shopping centre has continued to operate throughout the course of the pandemic

A worrying future ahead

It is estimated that around 61% of UK consumers can foresee the closure of high street stores in the near future, according to a recent survey.

Furthermore, the number of physical stores keeps shrinking each year. Today, it is believed that there are 50,000 less high street shops than there were ten years ago.

As a result of this, there are considerably fewer employment opportunities in the retail sector than there was a few years ago. A semi-recent report from the Official for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that high street retail employment fell in more than three-quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018 – a figure which is on-trend to keep falling each year.

Can the high street be saved?

Despite most evidence saying otherwise, there is not necessarily a definitive death sentence in store for high street shopping.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, recently laid out his plans to aid struggling high street shops in a speech to parliament during his budget address.

The Chancellor has promised a brand new £5 billion grant scheme that will help owners reopen their business and “level up” Britain’s economy. Almost a million firms will be eligible for this scheme that aims to help them get back on their feet, as well as offering incentives to prevent them from laying off any more staff.

There are also still those who believe that the high street holds a place in the future. Save The High Street is an industry-wide movement launched in 2016 that aims to ensure high street shops not only survive the pandemic but continue to thrive for years to come.

Over the last year, their board (consisting of more than 300 independent businesses and 50 industry experts) has launched a series of initiatives to empower countless high street shops across the country. Some of the measures they proposed included:

  • An intensive research project with detailed surveying of the impacts of the pandemic on high street businesses. More than 1,400 took part and provided a valuable and detailed view of the ways in which businesses were responding, aspired to respond or were as yet failing to respond.
  • Delivering a 12-week support programme for any UK based independent high street business that worked to achieve six key goals: reduce costs, sell in new ways, adapt marketing, collaborate as a community, prepare for the future and organising business funding.
  • Partnering up with local authorities to ensure that high street communities have the support and resources they need to persist through this challenging period.
  • Running a series of webinars for national audiences hosted by expert panellists on pressing and relevant issues.

How the government plans to reopen all shops

As it currently stands, only essential shops such as supermarkets or takeaways are allowed to be open.

The reopening of all non-essential shops will be in the second stage of the government’s four-stage plan to reopen the UK after the third national lockdown. The second stage is expected to begin deployment no earlier than 12th April – though depending on the rate of infection, this date could be further delayed.

However, until then, the government has advised everyone to stay indoors where possible and only go to the shops for essential reasons.

Failure to comply with the current coronavirus guidelines can result in fines of £200 for the first offence, which will then double for each further offence up to a maximum of £6,400.

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