High street dreams

Shopping guru Mary Portas has been appointed by the Government to lead an independent review of the future of the British high street. Design Week asks retail design experts to outline their vision of what high streets might look like in ten years’ time

Ibrahim Ibrahim

Ibrahim Ibrahim
Managing director


The next ten years will be a transformative time for our high streets. Shops will be the theatres where brands develop their closest relationships with customers. Technological advances will be mind-boggling and hard to predict, but will help reinvigorate our high streets. I envisage:

  • Digitised public space, ’soft’ architecture, gestureand face-recognition, Web-enabled ’everything’, digital interfaces in space, 3D printing, near-field communications, interactive projection and so on. These will be part of everyday life and will greatly influence how we interact with brands and each other. But as we lead increasingly digitised lives, people will seek compensatory human contact and physical experiences.
  • The growth of regional and local art/cultural/ performance experiences will be part of some high streets and their commercial offer. Customers will increasingly seek more meaning, entertainment and less ’stuff’.
  • Shops will become more sociable places. Every brand will need to rethink ’sociability’ into its business model. Being community-based and community-relevant will be key.
David Dalziel

David Dalziel
Creative director
Dalziel & Pow

Celebrity power worries me more than our ability to rejuvenate our townscape. I believe the high street of the future will be more similar to the high street of the past than we fear.

As opportunities arise they will be filled with entrepreneurial traders that can exploit falling rents and nervous landlords. We might have fewer conventional retailers and more services, hospitality and entertainment, but that shift will be logical, gradual and natural.

We shouldn’t overreact it is an opening, an opportunity, not a threat. I don’t particularly like the phase we are in today, as we see the slow transition, but I am looking forward to the future where individual ambition can thrive.

Jonathan Clarke

Jonathan Clarke
Director of interiors, Europe
Woods Bagot

There has been concern about the decline of the local and independent offer of the high street for nearly a decade. The impact has been devastatingly apparent for the past two years, where we have seen the vacancy rate doubling and an accelerated shift towards the big-box retailers that can keep their overheads low.

The generalists that can only compete on price have seen a need to enhance the experience of shopping and add additional attractions and value. The Apple Genius bar and the rise of the Geek Squad are good examples of things to come.

It has always been interesting to see how the high street borrows and re-appropriates product from the luxury industry. This may need to be applied to the level of service and experience required to keep the high street alive.

Reverting to a model that is focused on the local environment and space may also be necessary, as the high street struggles to compete on price with online offerings and the convenience of out-of-town retail centres.

Stuart Wood

Stuart Wood
Executive creative director

The Internet has had a positive impact on UK businesses, but the high street has suffered. With 15 per cent of shops empty, a long-term vision is well overdue. We at Fitch believe four key trends will drive people back to their local high street:

Localisation people up and down the country have been campaigning against their local high street being homogenised by brands. Consumers will increasingly seek experiences that fit with them, their location and the social context.

From sales to service bricks can beat clicks. Never underestimate the advice and intimacy of a respected shop-owner, the experience of touching, feeling and tasting the product. Shops that celebrate their specialism and employ people who know their stuff will always be reasons to return.

Community hub people feel disconnected from society. Recent research by Fitch reveals 74 per cent of respondents feel the need to belong. The Empty Shop Network reconnects communities through art and culture by negating the cumulative effect of abandoned shops, helping to re-energise businesses around them.

Multi-use why should a shop do the same things between 10am and 6pm, when we don’t? Mothers’ groups in children’s shops before 11am? Writing courses in the café over lunch? Smart retailers will find new ways to suit changing lifestyles.

Philip Dolman

Philip Dolman
Studio DB

The high street’s future is service, knowledge, personalisation and ability to compete. I grew up in a small family furniture business on a provincial high street, so I have some insight into the current problems of independents. For small stores to compete, the retail giants should put back some of their success to support independent traders, by providing training, buying skills, marketing and design know-how, distribution and so on as well as open up their supply chain to high street shops, to allow them to source product as competitively.

You will be able to pop into your local store and, as well as picking up your daily shop, it will provide a personal shopping service. Based on your profile (budget, design preferences, lifestyle, family and so on) the store will be able to put together a customised shopping solution for you, whether it is for groceries, fashion, furniture or ironmongery. This will be pulled together from across the major stores or Internet warehousing and dispatched directly to you. The high street store will remain independent, but it will have the economies of scale and resources of the giants.

Of course, you can do this on the Internet but the local retailer provides old-school knowledge, service and personality that is lacking in the anonymous retail leviathans or on the Web.

Callum Lumsden

Callum Lumsden
Retail design consultant

As high streets deteriorate into charity/Polska/ pound shop hell, it is difficult to see how they can recover, with the scale of the recession hanging over the UK.

High streets will have to fight back with some compelling reasons for their local communities to use them. The malls, online shopping, parking, opening hours and convenience are all reasons for not using your high street. Ignoring major hurdles such as planning laws, intransigent landlords and inflation, there is no reason why those responsible for managing their high streets should not ’cosy’ up to the mall operators and get them to help with how to manage these locations.

Would it be commercially viable for an operator such as Westfield to buy some high streets? With a positive vision of what would work, the mall sector could refurbish them in a way that respected the heritage of the location while attracting a compelling mix of small multiple retailers as well as independent ones.

Combine this with a viable solution to the tragic waste of unused accommodation above the majority of high street shops and you begin to get a vision of commercial enterprise enabling social responsibility and being of benefit to local communities throughout the UK.

Rodney Fitch
Retail design consultant

The Queen of Shops Government commission suggests high places are concerned about high streets. Given the steady decline of both, this is unsurprising, but I doubt even Portas’s forceful medicine can do much more than keep the patient alive, rather than bring it back to purposeful health.

The retail industry occupies one of the most competitive, dynamic and innovative of business landscapes – it is constantly renewing itself. At present, the tectonic plates of shopping are shifting dramatically. We are experiencing nothing less than a retail revolution led, on the one hand, by transformational technology that gives us the Internet, online shopping, multi-channelling and social media, with more to come, and on the other, by significant developments in consumer attitudes, expectations and aspirations.

Successful retailing is framed by some simple truths, one of which says contemporary retailing must always reflect the society it serves – what worked for one generation almost certainly will not work for the next. The actual shopping experience is paramount – it must be satisfying, efficient and pleasurable. Ask yourself, does the average high street meet these criteria? There was a time when it did, but for a variety of cultural, societal and economic reasons it no longer does and we should temper any regret at its passing. Shopper needs are increasingly being met by more appropriate channels and they seem to prefer them.

Philip Handford
Creative director

The high street of the future represents a valuable medium to deliver a brand story – ‘architecture is advertising’ is the idea that will transform our high streets into a series of immersive billboards and brand lounges, which due to the premium of space will be too valuable to cram full with piles of products and instead evolve into alluring, interactive environments – imagine an advert that you can smell, touch and walk around. Brand advertising is not about what we are told but what we experience and how we connect physically and emotionally.

In the future, retailers will have developed a better understanding of the relationship between online and in-store and will maximize the use of space to deliver experiences that cannot be delivered through our laptops. Online will be for sales, while the in-store high-street space will engage with all the senses and leave an indelible impression.

Robbie Gill
Managing director
The Design Solution

My only words of wisdom on the subject are depressing ones. I suspect that charity shops are going to have a field day, electronics will be gone forever, luxury in major cities will be there and apart from that it will be what everybody wants on a day-to-day basis: supermarkets, convenience stores, chemists, coffee shops and panic purchase outlets. Experience shops may happen, people have been trying it for decades, but for the most part they are all about brand promotion and propped up by marketing budgets. Anyway, how can you compete with cyberspace?

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  • @mikeriddell62 November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hail Mary. She’s great but her report does over-complicate things (as do your commentators).

    One recommendation would solve all. Co-operate.

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