Basket shopping

Some claim the high street is dying naturally - we just don’t shop the way we used to. That’s not quite true. We may no longer shop the way we did in the 1990s, but there’s an argument that we may do so the way our grandparents did.

We’re more likely to buy groceries often and in small amounts rather than in a large weekly shop, and if we do visit the high street we value personal, bespoke service. It’s an evolution, but it’s also the 1950s and 1960s all over again.

Yes, that’s a generalisation. But it does highlight the importance of independent c-stores, which thrive on ‘little but often’ shopper journeys and on providing the personal service and expertise the multiples struggle with. Little wonder our recent shopper research found that nearly half of us (47%) would like to see empty high street units turned into independent shops and 28% would opt for independent cafés or bars.

We may no longer shop the way we did in the 1990s, but there’s an argument that we may do so the way our grandparents did

Yet, at the same time, half of us (50%) think independents are too pricey and a quarter (26%) feel those shops don’t offer enough choice. It’s a delicate balance.

So what does this mean for the high street of tomorrow? First, there is still something to be said for being different. In the US, the ubiquitous coffee chains have begun to lose their lustre and quite a few are being converted to tea shops. In Britain, the number of retailers offering drop-off and collection points has skyrocketed as brands reposition themselves for a multichannel world.

Grocery has weathered the move to online better than some, but the growth of home delivery services from the multiples has nonetheless begun to bite into the bottom line. Perhaps that’s why the most recent wave of c-stores resemble the small, modern supermarkets that started popping up in the 1960s.

They now have the opportunity to become the champions of quality produce and expert knowledge that the grocers, greengrocers, butchers and bakers once were. They could even become anchor brands that pull other retailers back. Either way, they won’t just play a role in high street renaissance, they are imperative to it. If they’re not given a chance to re-establish, then the high street is dead.

Nick Gray is MD of integrated creative agency Live & Breathe