Four principles for evolving the high street

Identifying the real issues that need to be addressed to make retail appropriate for the 21st century


‘Saving the high street’ has become a popular clarion call among media and government, though in many respects it simply serves as a marketing term – something that people can understand, without committing to what it actually means in practice.

What is the tangible outcome for a high street that has been ‘saved’?

The definition of what constitutes a high street is probably undergoing a shift. Traditionally, the term has brought to mind images of rows of retail outlets – ‘going to the high street’ invariably meant ‘going shopping’. It may be that high streets of the future become more focused on leisure and entertainment than retail stores per se.

Should we accept then, that retail now occupies a lower position in the hierarchy of high street space? Is the popular retail reform mantra of ‘less, but better shops’ the rational way forward?

This paper argues that, in order to create physical retail models that are appropriate to the modern age, we have to consider the wider context of the shift that has been going on. The focus to this point has been too firmly on saving the high street – but, if we try to identify the central problem that needs to be solved here, we soon find there are actually numerous problems that span physical and online retail.

Without addressing all of them as one, any solution applied to the high street – from a retail perspective at least – will necessarily be interim in nature.