Posted: 18 Nov. 2021 5 min. read

What is the future of the high street, post pandemic

Anyone who has walked down a high street in recent months can spot the signs of change.  Countless stores closed during lockdown, many of which won’t be reopening. Change is happening across the board – from supply side with the shift in the profiles of stores; to demand shifts in the behaviours, attitudes and loyalty of the consumer. 

But in the ever-constant nature of lifecycles, green shoots can be seen in the high street.  There are more of new types of occupants that can afford to enter high streets for the first time. Often, new high street entrants are those retailers that have weathered lockdown storm. They are differentiating their physical stores with inspiration and innovation while consumers are looking for a rich experience and connection with a brand. 

Our latest Deloitte Future Customer Experience research showed it clearly that the attitudes and values of consumers have changed.  It is imperative that now, more than ever, retailers should listen carefully to what their consumers’ needs and expectations are as it will allow them to maintain a loyal and engaged customer base to springboard growth in the future.

Loyalty to local

The pandemic has led to a renewed sense of local community, with three in five consumers reporting that they are more likely to spend money at a business that is independent or local to their area, and 46 per cent of them are willing to pay more to shop at the local high street.  Consumers will continue to support local businesses that have got them through recent times, diverting time and money previously spent in larger city centres and shopping districts.  Retailers should think about how they can ignite and activate their brand at a local level and potentially consider more local neighbourhood locations than their previous real estate strategies.

Our Future Customer Experience research found that besides supporting the local community, consumers also want to support broader causes, and expect retailers to do the same. The COVID-19 pandemic has been overlaid with major world events, which have driven many consumers to look to brands to exercise their influence in support of global campaigns. Lush is a great example of a retail business that prides itself upon its strong environmental stance, refusing to test products on animals, using only natural ingredients and minimising packaging, with most of their products being sold packaging-free.

Consumers will increasingly want to spend their money and become ambassadors of those brands that reflect their values and ethics.

Diversity is key

We believe that high streets will become more diverse in a post-lockdown world. Even today, retail’s occupancy rate on Britain’s high streets is just 29 per cent on average*, with leisure, residences and offices all taking up space alongside traditional shops.

Retail spaces on high streets have the potential to be used for new purposes: from a place for local artists to showcase new artworks to shops becoming craft workshops – a maker’s place where individuals can demonstrate and sell their wares. The rise of the online ‘local marketplace’ Etsy has proven a demand for individually crafted products and allows brands to take part in the trend towards local, even without a physical retail space. To drive recovery in post-pandemic times, local councils should hold responsibility to create a sense of community and promote local independent sellers.

Brands need to re-think how they use their physical shops. One way of doing it is to focus on creating more inspiring, bespoke experiences, connecting with their customers individually rather than serving as a space where products are displayed, giving customers a reason to go in and to keep browsing.

Retailers should consider how shopper missions may change and adapt their stores to better suit these evolving missions. Rather than being on a ‘shopping’ mission, perhaps, consumers could be browsing before engaging in another activity, which suggests that shops could put more emphasis on convenience purchases. Alternatively, brands can reinforce the ‘buy now, collect later’ as well as home delivery propositions. Developing a clear understanding of the customer and their evolving needs will be crucial to success in post-pandemic world.

Optimising online and omnichannel

The pandemic has proven that the internet can respond quickly to any void left by bricks and mortar, with total online sales peaking at 33 per cent of all retailing and 49 per cent of all fashion retailing in the first lockdown*.

It is fundamental that retailers, both large and small, make the most of their online presence: from social media and e-commerce to marketplaces. The key to success lies in making the online and offline customer experience of the brand as easy and consistent as possible. A recent study found that 42 per cent of consumers expect a seamless experience across channels*.

Oasis is an example of a retailer that brings together its stores, app and website into a coherent experience. In-store sales assistants use iPads to give customers up-to-date product information. Some stores also use iPads for quicker and more convenient payments, allowing customers to pay from anywhere in the store, without having to queue at a till point. If an item is out of stock, the store staff can instantly place an online order and have it delivered to the customer’s door. Retailers will continue looking for ways to make the shopping experience easier by bringing together different channels in a seamless manner.

Consumer behaviour is likely to shift quickly as we all adjust to coming out of lockdown. To keep up with this shift retailers should adopt a more agile mentality by testing new ideas and learning from them quickly. However, what we can be certain about is that high streets do have a future in a post-pandemic world, and an exciting one indeed.

*All references from here

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Georgie Rhodes

Georgie Rhodes


Georgie is a Manager in Deloitte Digital’s Marketing practice. She is an experienced marketing professional, with experience in marketing optimisation, strategy and content creation. She supports clients in their marketing and digital transformation and advises them on how to improve their marketing activities to drive commercial results.