Fitness raves, pink lamp posts and bespoke shopfronts: is this the future of the high street?

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As the beating heart of many towns and cities across the UK, the British high street is an institution. And despite the recent closure of major stores such as Debenhams and Topshop, it is far from dead.

A 2021 study revealed that 82 per cent of shoppers would be upset to witness the disappearance of their local high street. It’s evidently a vital component of British culture and one that shoppers refuse to give up on. So how can it evolve into something more relevant for the future?

A 2018 YouGov poll indicates that the older generations have very different ideals. Those aged 65-plus desire travel agents, newsagents, homeware, book stores, post offices, pharmacies, laundrettes and banks. Alternatively, the younger generations want restaurants and takeaways, media stores for music, movies, videos and games as well as cinemas. Retail Week’s 2021 High Street Rebooted report strengthens this data, stating that under 34s are most likely to spend their money on health pursuits, fashion and entertainment.  

UKShopfront, an expert installer of bespoke shop fronts, shutters and signs, has assessed some of the most exciting incoming developments in retail. These are indicative of the future of the high street as it continues to adapt to ever-changing consumer demands. 

1. Leisure and fitness

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Described as ‘the home of dance music’ on its website, the choice to transform Westfield’s previous House of Fraser site into a Ministry of Sound site will raise many eyebrows. However, this space is set to include a gym, restaurant and offices rather than the traditional nightclub setting – while holding innovative ‘fitness raves’. 

Many other UK leisure and fitness businesses have capitalised on the attractive rents offered by prime locations in retail parks and on high streets. As the landscape of the high street continues to shift, many have considered if fitness operators are the answer to its evolution helping to transform them into ‘hubs for health, education and social cohesion in the centre of the community’. 

2. The Hipster revolution

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The clash of fast fashion at a time when public concern over the environment has reached record highs, with many shoppers aiming to be more sustainable in their purchasing habits. As a result, Depop gained 163 per cent more new users in 2020 compared to 2019.

The online resale industry is predicted to explode over the next five years. Subsequently, this means that secondhand retailers are thriving with store owners stating “we’re getting busier and busier” as Y2K fashion trends return and fast fashion consciousness increases. While these shops have been in fashion for years, with a reputation for affordability and individuality, this trend is set to continue for the eco-conscious Gen Z. 

3. Architectural work

Nine Elms, London

It is not only the styles of shops on the high street that are changing, but the physical street itself. In July 2022 a London-based Studio NOOMA won a £65,000 contract to design, create and install a public-realm concept to last 10 years in Nine Elms near Vauxhall. Selected from a five-strong shortlist of highly reputable architects, the firm is set to install innovative and creative measures such as painting lamp posts powder pink to ‘revive a once thriving market street’. 

The architect meets high street combination is therefore gaining popularity, with architecture firm Jan Kattein Architects previously completing town centre regeneration in several areas across London. From completing Nunhead and Sutton in 2015 to ongoing projects in Peckham, these plans have ‘enabled high streets to transform and adapt to changing economic realities’. 

4. Rolling away

Hucknall town centre

A clean and presentable shop front is a classic necessity for attracting custom. However, in a modern twist, a multitude of high street development plans, such as those for Hucknall town centre in Nottingham, have suggested removing the traditional shutters on high street stores. 

The plans suggest that the introduction of bespoke shop fronts may be more attractive and welcoming to visitors, utilising contemporary lighting and aesthetics such as plants to appeal to visitors. This change also makes a shopfront more interactive, enabling passerby to windowshop. As a result, brand awareness and latest trends should be at the forefront of your display, encouraging visitors to pop in

5. Industrial and logistics spaces

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In an article called “The future of the high street is here… and it’s industrial”, Simone de Gale argues that the market must respond to the growth of online shopping. Some high street retailers, such as Argos, have been ahead of the game with long-standing Click and Collect services. Shoppers are able to simply click before collecting the same day for unmatched convenience

Forbes has argued that convenience has become a vital factor within the contemporary business world, including the retail market. This factor has become more important following the pandemic, proven by Amazon’s profits tripling during the lockdowns.

As a result, retailers should not only offer click and collect services but consider utilising available space for logistics. For example, Knight Frank has suggested that disused car parks should be repurposed into urban logistics hubs to support the forecasted expansion of online retail sales in the next five years.

As 40 per cent of e-commerce businesses in Europe now plan to open a physical store, driven by consumer and payment trends, it is inevitable that the high street will eventually become the beating heart of the logistics hub. As specialists in all commercial shop fronts, UKShopfront prides itself on 30 years worth of high-quality and bespoke projects.