The future of the high street

The future of shopping – where can the high street go from here?

There’s no doubt about it, the last 18 months has hit retail HARD – particularly on the high street.

However, the high street has been suffering for a long time and the pandemic was one of many contributing factors. Topshop in Bluewater was often empty, Warehouse was a struggling brand for at least 2 years prior to the pandemic. It was sadly, a long time coming.

As someone who has been shopping with clients on the high street for over 9 years, I have seen shops come and go – some of which have left a gaping hole.

Renting a commercial property, particularly within a shopping mall, is extremely costly. Add to that the costs of staff and stock, and it’s no wonder many brands are switching to online only.

As much as many of us find shopping stressful and overwhelming, it can also be such a joyful process. Even if you don’t buy anything, you can often find inspiration from how items are styled in store, you have the option to try a variety of sizes and feel the fabric.

We are able to help our clients shop online because we have that extra, insider knowledge. Zara has a particularly unhelpful way of displaying their clothes on the website. It’s become something of an internet sensation (great for Zara’s publicity) but it’s really unhelpful for the consumer, when the model is sitting down or lying in the sea!! How on earth are we supposed to see what she’s even wearing?!

As stylists, we take regular trips to the shops (even when we are not with clients) so that we can see the clothes in person. We need to know how they fit, how they look, what the fabric feels like, etc.

Online shopping has many benefits and has been everyone’s lifeline during the pandemic…. but how many of you have forgotten to take an item back to the post office that doesn’t fit? Does it sit in your wardrobe with tags on instead? It is more likely to lead to wasteful shopping if you’re not completely sure how the item is going to be in person. At least in a changing room you can either switch out a size, or discard it altogether. I appreciate this isn’t always an option for those who are plus sized, which I am going to cover more in a second!

There are so many ways that brands could help drive their in-store sales. Here are some of my thoughts that I feel are glaringly obvious….

  1. Exclusive discounts.

I have been with so many clients who have tried a great item on in store, but decided to wait and purchase it online when they’re home, because they’ve been sent a discount code. If there were more “in store only” exclusives, it would really drive customers through the door. This doesn’t have to be a discount, it could be an exclusive range. I remember the buzz around the Caroline Flack range at River Island! It sold out quickly online but there were so many more pieces in store that I managed to bag for my clients.

  • Inclusive sizes.

Too many stores only go to a size 18 and this is unacceptable. If a shop is offering a plus size range online, this should be offered in store too. Even better, why have a plus size range at all?! Why not just stock all sizes? Again, this would create a more inclusive experience.

  • Inclusive lengths.

I’m 5ft 9 and often need that all important tall range, in store! The same can be said for petite ranges. While I’m on the subject, petite ranges need to be size inclusive too. So many of them are limited to a size 16, when I have many clients who are petite size 18 or 20.

I really miss shops like Dorothy Perkins who catered to such a wide range of customers. You could buy on trend pieces as well as affordable staples. They were also much more size and height inclusive. More than any other shop, I really miss their presence from the high street. I worked in Dorothy Perkins and Topshop years ago, and I always loved their pieces. Topshop was obviously more trend lead and another one that is sorely missed (particularly their jeans, accessories and shoes).

I hope that once we see a boost in the economy, we can get some exciting new brands out there on the high street again. Unfortunately, the more independent, small boutiques would struggle with the sky high rent costs of a shopping mall. You’re more likely to find these gems (such as Twelve Middle Row) in your local high street. It’s important to support these businesses too. They have big hearts!

Style is art and you are the artist.  As much as online shopping has many benefits, you can be truly inspired by a visit to the shops. We can and should do more to support the shops, whether it’s your local boutique or shopping mall. Shopping is a sociable experience that can be truly joyful, particularly when combined with a coffee and slice of cake with a friend (or professional shopper…!).

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