tbk: The high street store is dead – long live the ‘design hub & event space’

The high street is dying. Thousands of stores are closing their doors and yet another retail giant is packing up shop for good. Retail is experiencing a huge period of change and the press are whipping us into a frenzy of empty shops and unemployment. But whilst we might pay lip service to mourning a high street steeped in history, and the more emotional issue of people losing their jobs, do consumers really care?

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Shoppers have never had it better. Online shopping is the antidote to modern life; offering convenience, choice and a shift of power back to consumers like never before. Like any good marketer, online has identified their customers’ needs and delivered an attractive solution. In contrast, the high street has become bland and homogenous, offering us the same decaying stores in every town.

As an agency that creates ideas that influence purchase decisions, we wanted to understand more. Not more from the latest industry figures but more from the customers we set out to influence. So, we asked them about their shopping behaviours and what they believe the future of the high street is.

What consumers want is a high street turned on its head; no longer competing in the same space as online but playing on its strengths in a way online never can. We all crave experience, social interaction, inspiration; it’s what makes us human and it’s here the high street can start to win again. Some online retailers are starting to recognise this as they open their own bricks and mortar outlets, although Made are keen to emphasise this is not a store, preferring a ‘constantly evolving design hub and event space’. Stores are the past and this is the future.

The desire for local independents is a strong driver for change, with consumers recognising the need for stores to offer something different, to be part of and give back to local communities. Wouldn’t it be interesting if M&S looked at the way independents deliver uniqueness and authenticity for customers and created local stores; offering regional product ranges and services that enhanced and supported the local community?

Instead of trying to save an old-fashioned high street that is no longer relevant and, quite frankly, lazy, it’s now up to retail brands and their agencies to listen to their customers and offer them the products, services and experiences they want or else risk losing them forever.


  • 67% of respondents don’t think the closure of big-brand stores will affect their shopping habits. Consumers are looking for more from their real-life experiences, a high street that can support local communities, create memories with friends and offer something different and unique where online can’t compete. This is an exciting time for consumers as they reject the high street they don’t want, to shape the retail experience they do; it’s also where retail brands can find their biggest opportunity.
  • 24% of the people we sampled believe that this year will bring the same number of store closures as last while 67% of respondents believe this year will be hit even harder with a bigger number of stores closing.
  • Independent retailers are gaining in popularity in a consumer backlash against the homogenous high streets – 39% of people would do away with big brand retailers altogether, in favour of small independents. A local marketing approach is key in repositioning established big brand retailers with a relevant local offering to compete in this space.
  • Not being able to view and try items before purchasing them came out as the main downfall of online shopping, with 71% agreeing this was a significant disadvantage. Online’s downfalls are real stores’ benefits and vice-versa. Both channels need to look to the other for key learnings; to carve out their individual roles and work together to offer customers the total shopping experience.
  • Consumers are very aware of the changes happening in retail but there is still a great deal of uncertainty around what the future holds for the traditional local high street. 63% were either not sure whether it will survive the next 5 years or believe it will be gone altogether.

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Alliance of Independent Agencies

The Alliance is the UK’s trade body that represents entrepreneurial and independent marketing agencies. We are a growing community of those marketing agencies that are independent in culture and entrepreneurial in spirit resulting in the creation of some of the most transformative, innovative and inspirational communication campaigns for the world's biggest brands.