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The Future of the Hight Street: Are the UK’s high streets are in a crisis? The spaces of community, socialising, entertainment, and shopping experiences are dwindling at an alarming rate.

Walk down your nearest high street and you’ll likely see ‘Closing Down Sale’ and ‘Everything Must Go’ signs. And boarded up shops their closest neighbours. Even charity shops are feeling the gloomy pinch. Why is that?

Shops closing and online shopping to blame

Thousands of retailers and outlets have closed since 2008. Toys R Us is the latest victim. Just like the high street’s iconic Woolworths, the toy-selling franchise will close all its UK shops – 100, affecting 3,000 jobs – and leave the high street for good.

Toys R Us spoke of having an “online problem”. Simon Thomas of Moorfields Advisory, the toy chain’s administrators, told the BBC “people can go into our shop, look at something, then look at an alternative and buy it at a cheaper price”.

Therefore, the booming of online shopping seems to be one of many reasons to pick at for their demise.

But it’s not all doom and gloom

Business researchers LDC have found something to bring us hope. The number of independent outlets has risen, all over England in every region, during the past year. Contrasting chain stores’ continuing decline.

And it’s down to something fundamental to British society. The sense of community. York’s Bishopthorpe Road is an example of this revival taking place. Seeing the decline happen in front of their eyes, shop owners decided to band together. They gathered all the shops together under one banner, or more precisely one website, and launched it with a street party. The street’s footfall rose to 3,000 that day. They reclaimed public spaces to allow people to linger and socialise. And where there’s community, there’s thriving.

The customer has never been more in charge

What is the High Street’s future?

For the high street to survive, it needs to preserve the community and serve its new needs in the technological age. The continuous embrace of e-commerce and online shopping can also fall into that.

Toys R Us sees the online model as a problem, but it can be used as an advantage. Consumers are known to now use online stores to compare prices when shopping in traditional stores.

Because of this, retailers must remodel their approach to mix offline and online channels. Helena Theakstone, head of digital at Oasis Fashion, thinks this model is the way forward. Speaking to commputerweekly.com, she said “Brands that are creating a seamless offline to online experience for the customer have the advantage. The customer has never been more in charge of when and where they wish to make a purchase.” This will give the consumer a consistent experience across all platforms, revive dying brands, and ultimately serve the high street experience a true reflection of the brand.”

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