By Joe Harker
Financial predictions for 2019 forecast that the British high street will shed 23,000 stores and 175,000 jobs over the course of the year. That would follow a poor 2018 where almost 20,000 stores and 150,000 jobs were lost on the high street. Shoppers are increasingly turning towards online retailers and the decline of the high street is expected to accelerate.
It's not just shops that make up part of the high street. Pubs and restaurants are also suffering from a lack of footfall as fewer people going to the shops means fewer people are around to eat and drink. These businesses aren't being helped by rising costs that are hitting harder just as customers are dropping.
Those going out to shop are increasingly expecting "experiential" retail, that is to say customers want experience led shopping. They want it to be more personal and tailored for themselves. Stores where the staff can offer extra value compared to buying online are still doing well. Craft shop Hobbycraft ran in store workshops that boosted footfall and sales as customers came for the experience as much as the product. Expert advice and assistance from staff who know their stuff cannot be discounted as a valuable factor in shopping.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors warned that the continued decline of the high street would lead to "significant changes in value" for retail sites. They say change as a polite warning that values are expected to drop. The fewer people heading for the high street the less valuable retail sites become.
There are some companies proving they are the exception to the rule. Clothing retailer Primark is doing well, continuing to grow despite not technically selling products online. Not every company is declining although at times it feels as though the towns of the UK aren't big enough for all of them to thrive on.
There have been calls for reform to planning policies in an attempt to give smaller businesses a better chance to gain a foothold on the high street. Many UK councils demand that 95 per cent of their high street buildings are occupied by retail businesses, ensuring some places stay empty because the only ones willing to occupy it are planning on opening something else.
The Daily Telegraph predicts that 10 well known UK retailers will struggle in 2019, including Debenhams, Mothercare and New Look. Staples of the high street are facing new problems and their only solution may be to close certain stores and hang on to the most profitable ones.