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The University of Southampton

‘Once in a generation change’ in British shopping habits drives high street revival

Published: 24 March 2015
Shopping in Southampton

With one of the most exhaustive evidence reviews into high streets, town centres and consumer habits ever conducted in Britain, researchers at the University of Southampton have highlighted the seismic shifts in consumer behaviour which, combined with significant technological innovations, are having a deep and profound impact on the evolution of UK high streets.

Emerging from the six year period of economic crisis and austerity (2008 -14), the review provides evidence on the nature of these profound shifts and additionally, on the critical issue of the extent to which high street diversity might be a factor protecting the performance of town centres. It also demonstrates that, coming out of crisis, high streets are emerging with a stronger independent retailer presence than previously, while also shifting from being places focused on retail, to places where service provision plays a central role in their configuration and vitality.

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and commissioned by the Government’s policy advisory group The Future High Streets Forum, this new report titled ‘British High Streets: from Crisis to Recovery?’ published today (24 March) comes at a time when radical shifts in consumer culture and practices are becoming increasingly apparent and widely discussed in public debate on what is changing UK town centres and high streets. As recently widely discussed in the media, the problems of out-of-town superstores reflect the transformative power of these shifts, as consumers increasingly seek convenience at the local level, and expect to buy whatever they want any time, any place, and in the most convenient way to them.

As Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium makes clear in her preface to the report, “The authors, having considered the work of experts across the field, illustrate the trends which are apparent in our high streets and town centres, and dissect how those trends have changed – and will continue to change – these vital commercial and social spaces.” She also notes that: "this assessment of the drivers of change in the performance of the UK high streets leaves us better placed to respond to both current trends and those that will undoubtedly emerge in the future.”

Co-authored by Southampton’s experts Professor Neil Wrigley and Dr Dionysia Lambiri , the report includes contributions from experts at the Universities of Liverpool, Loughborough and Surrey and data mapping specialists Geofutures Ltd.

“This review offers a distinctive view of the challenges which have been faced by British town centres and high streets since the global economic crisis of 2007-08 and, in the process, adds value to existing interpretations,” says Professor Wrigley. It reflects the fact that reversing the decline of Britain’s high streets requires research and informed discussion, together with a harnessing of the goodwill and common purpose which has recently been displayed by the many stakeholders in the retail, hospitality, property and leisure sectors, who have worked together to understand and address those challenges.

The comprehensive evidence review British High Streets: from Crisis to Recovery? ’ comes eight months after the publication of the Brief Guide to High Street Performance and Evolution , also co-authored by Professor Neil Wrigley and Dr Dionysia Lambiri.

The full report can be accessed at the ESRC Retail Industry Business Engagement Network (RIBEN) website.

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