New report on state of British High Street and C19 as a catalyst for retail change

New report on state of British High Street and C19 as a catalyst for retail change

Posted 23 November, 2020 at 14:15

Author Mark Bradshaw on behalf of (ISW) Independent Shop Watch

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23 November 2020: Today is publishing a new report looking at the evolution of the British High street and how Covid-19 has been a catalyst for change within the retail environment.

The report shows that history tends to repeat itself. If we look at the impact of change on Blockbuster, and then again on Borders, we can see that these two once great retailers failed to respond to changes in customer needs and desires. What customers value most has changed considerably in the last few years, and this has been accelerated by C19. Right now, customers want convenience above all else – and it will be the retailers who give them this that will thrive.

Consumer habits have also changed: they are more comfortable than ever answering questions about themselves online, they are less loyal to brands than in previous years; and buying online has increased considerably and continues to do so.

Although many independent retailers were already adding online to their bricks-and-mortar sales channels, the lockdowns have sped up this move. For example,, which helps independent retailers create an online shop, has seen a huge increase in business with more retailers moving online in one day (Monday 2 Nov) than in the whole of January 2020.

Although unemployment has fallen in the U.K. for the past few years, the retail sector has been experiencing the opposite trend. The British Retail Consortium estimates that 900,000 jobs could be lost in the sector by 2025. Store closures are on the rise and fewer new high street retail businesses are opening.

Some sectors, however, have benefited from the pandemic including:

Technology (Apple Inc. / Microsoft Corp. / Alphabet Inc.); General Merchandise Retailers (Tesco / Waitrose); Entertainment (Netflix / YouTube / Walt Disney Co.); Biotech & Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson / AstraZeneca PLC); Work From Home Firms (Slack Technologies / Zoom Video / Communications Inc.); and Online Retailers (Amazon / Shopify / Down Your High Street).

A ‘one size fits all’ approach can no longer be applied to retail. Customers want convenience more than anything and that means buying, receiving and returning products the way they want. In some cases, this means going into a shop, for others it means doing it all online.

The report also shows there has been a rebirth of retail. The pandemic has brought a period of change like no other in retail. Lockdowns have shifted long-held consumer behaviours that retailers are having to adapt to for survival. As more people remain confined to their homes and are limiting their social and outdoor activities, the question is: which newly developed behaviours will stick in post-pandemic times?

Research shows several likely outcomes:  the flight to online; a shock to loyalty; the need for hygiene transparency; a return to basics and value; and the rise of the homebody economy.

The report also looks at how the pandemic has impacted online sales for those retailers which already had a strong digital presence, how shopping has changed from 2019 to 2020 and how shoppers think they will behave in 2021 in terms of their shopping habits, and which countries make the most sales online (the UK beats the USA!)

‘The Evolution of the British High Street’ provides an up to date look at the High Street in a year that has seen changes no one could have predicted.

The report was commissioned by – a free to join, low commission online marketplace on a mission to create the world’s longest high street by connecting community with commerce and giving the Great British High Street an online presence. hosts thousands of products that were previously unavailable online, from100s of independent retailers, allowing sellers to create or integrate their online presence saving them time and the costs traditionally associated with establishing a visible online presence.

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Independent Shop Watch (ISW) is the sister magazine off (IFM)) and holds the same aims, to inform, support and assist independent retailers throughout the UK.


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