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How Has The High Street Changed For Retail Businesses?

By Maria Hickey on June 16th, 2022

The UK high street and retail business has undergone significant changes over the past few decades that would now make them unrecognisable to our grandparents. Many town high streets have seen an explosion in coffee shops, phone shops and charity stores that would have our grandparents scratching their heads in wonder.

In most towns and cities, the butchers, fishmongers and grocery shops that commonly lined our streets are gone. But many people believe the high street has simply adapted to our modern needs and the way we buy and consume goods.

In this article, we look at how the high street has changed over the years, and what impact world events such as the Coronavirus pandemic have had on high street businesses.

How Has the High Street Changed In The Last 20 Years?

The past 20 years have seen the rise of digital technology, moving a lot of consumers online to shop for goods. Still, we also went through a rollercoaster of a financial recession that made things even more difficult for high street retailers.

Not only were more consumers spending online, but overall spending was reduced because consumers were more concerned about paying their bills rather than shopping on the high street. Online shopping also tempted many people away from the high street for its convenience and 24/7 accessibility.

The evolving makeup of our high streets

You cannot fail to notice the rise in the number of coffee shops taking over vacant spaces on our high streets. The coffee shop category has seen the most growth and taken the most significant share of high street shops since 2012.

The past 20 years have also seen a sharp decline in traditional high street pubs, with more people preferring the gastro-pup experience instead of propping up a bar for an evening.

Other familiar sights on the high street 20 years ago were bookshops, estate agents and banks. Physical estate agent shops and banks are becoming increasingly rare, as these services have moved online. Many people now read digital content rather than paper books, but those that prefer holding physical books can still buy new and old titles online.

One of the most significant impacts on the traditional high street has been the building of large edge of town supermarkets that offer everything you need under one roof.

The strong buying power of supermarkets and lower running costs meant lower prices for customers, which saw a massive exodus of high street customers flock to a local superstore for their weekly shop.

But with all the leading supermarkets now offering online ordering and home delivery, many people choose to shop online for everything they need to save more time. Online grocery shopping also saw a significant boost in demand due to the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns.

What Impact Has Covid-19 Had On The UK High Street?

There is no doubt that the Covid pandemic has had a massive impact on town centre high streets. As a result of the lockdowns, the general public began to rely even more on online shopping.

This move online seems to be having a lasting effect, with many people choosing to remain online for their needs instead of returning to the high street to shop as they did before the pandemic.

Many high street retail businesses learned to find a new home online and updated their websites to make it easier for their customers to continue to shop with them. Many retail business owners dipped their toes in delivery services for the first time and managed to find a new audience for their goods as people searched for more things to buy online.

As non-essential shops started reopening again at the easing of Covid restrictions, many retailers that found success online have continued to offer goods for sale online with local or even national delivery if practicable.

What’s Going To Happen to The UK High Street?

With the growth in coffee shops and the cafe culture, more people want to linger longer on the high street as it is now seen as more of a place to meet and socialise with friends and family rather than as a place only for shopping for essentials.

While you can easily buy your weekly groceries online and have them delivered to your door, the personal touch is missing from these services. As people emerge from two years of forced isolation, socialising on the high street over a cup of coffee has become a welcome relief.

Yes, we have seen several stores vanish on the high street. We have lost some big brand names along the way, but this has meant more opportunity for small, niche, entrepreneurial retailers to set up shop on our high street that would previously have been priced out of the prime retail estate in the town centre.

The growing demand for local and sustainable

Our high streets can now evolve into places that offer a range of bespoke and unique retailers with businesses based on the owner’s passion, art, and creativity and use locally sourced and sustainable ingredients or materials.

There has already been a considerable move in many towns to convert large retail units into residential flats. However, many developers are converting these properties to leave smaller retail shop fronts to encourage more people to set up a local retail business that don’t need a large floor space for displays and inventory.

While consumers no longer desire to shop in giant department stores full of generic goods, they still like to seek the unusual, unique, bespoke and creative offerings by solo entrepreneurs and small businesses on the high street. This may see the high streets becoming a place where retail innovation and creativity can flourish.

Protecting your high street business

If you plan to open a business on your local high street, you will need some retail business insurance. The type of shop business insurance you need to protect yourself with will depend on the size and type of your business and how you operate daily.

Typical retail shop insurance should include cover for you and any staff you employ, your customers, and anyone visiting your premises on official business. For example, employers liability insurance is required by law.

You need to protect your business from any unexpected incidents or accidents involving your products, services or shop environment. Your insurance should cover you for any big payouts for a customer slipping on the floor or damage to their property.

The great thing about retail insurance is that it is often bespoke and will be based on your needs as a business.

Cheap shop insurance may look tempting at first glance, but make sure you read the small print, as many cheaper quotes will mean you miss out on some essential cover that will make all the difference to the security of your business when faced with a claim. For competitive business insurance rates, compare quotes with Brisco business today.


Despite the many changes happening to the high street today, there is still money waiting to be spent by local communities eager to go out shopping and socialising again in a post-pandemic world.

While online shopping is quick and convenient, people will still prefer to shop for many physical goods that they can see and touch and enjoy a bit of coffee and people watching, which are far more enjoyable than filling up a virtual shopping basket.

Don’t know where to start with business insurance? Let our team compare policies and find the best fit for you.

Maria Hickey

For more than 20 years, Maria has worked in the insurance sector and has extensive underwriting and customer service expertise. Maria is an experienced Senior Underwriter with a particular specialism for shop, office and surgery related insurance.

All articles by Maria Hickey

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