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How would the death of the high street affect property professionals?

The death of the high street – is it inevitable – or even bad?

Some experts wonder aloud how the Coronavirus will affect the high street for the next few quarters and the rest of the year.  

Many retailers are probably questioning whether it’s financially viable having a presence in the high street these days. It’s no secret many are considering just an online store. However, online stores are suffering due to stock shortages just the same as bricks and mortar shops, so it might be that once people return to life as normal, the high street bounces back to pre-virus levels. 

But, let’s run this thought experiment again. Regardless of the present situation, times are changing for retail, and land is a soughtafter commodity. 

With valuable property standing vacant on the high street, and lease reviews plummeting, where do you stand? How do you get a return on investments when the rules are changing?

The shift from customer-friendly retail to industrial spaces is gathering speed. Warehouses full of stock for online purchase are in demand. Companies involved in storage, logistics and shipping are cutting out the retailer and going in a more direct line from manufacturer to consumer.

If the outlook for traditional retail stores is bleak, one giant Blockbuster if you will, what’s the outlook for the high street itself?

Why are we so attached to the high street anyway? Why does every city need a New Look, John Lewis or Clinton Cards?

The high street stirs emotions of community and fun in most people. And yet these very same people are staying away for the ease of sofa-consumerism.

If the retail market isn’t dying, and people are simply changing where they buy, what is going to happen to the physical location we call the high street?


A Thought Experiment: If the high street dies, what will live?

If familiar stores and shops disappear, it seems unlikely that space will simply decay into a post-dystopian shell. That’s prime land in prime locations across the country.

More than likely, the function of this space will change. Will we see the rise of shopping villages, providing a family day out, complete with childcare? Or will a new concept of city centre space arise?

It’s an interesting thought for property professionals. After all, they will be the ones designing, surveying and renovating these locations.

Here are a few ideas we’ve come up with. They’ll all require a restructuring of land use. How would you position yourself, your firm, and your skills to benefit?

  • Offices – transient, collaborative spaces for a work-at-home workforce to come together
  • Sports facilities – swimming pools, gyms or even curling
  • Health and wellness – nail bars, massage parlours, social group spaces, hairdressers
  • Places to eat – restaurants, bars, DIY BBQ spaces, chippies, coffee shops
  • Outdoor recreation – playgrounds, parks, outdoor climbing facilities, tennis courts, learner ski-slopes, quiet spaces for walking, running, all-weather outdoor meditation or kicking a ball around in the fresh air
  • Spaces offering customer experiences – if you’ve ever been treated to a glass of Champaign at a Kuoni while you watch your ideal holiday take shape on an ultra HD screen, you’ll understand why this could be a lucrative use of high street space
  • Stylish, comfy warehouses where drones drop off parcels for collection if drops are not permitted in residential areas
  • Interactive areas for the creation of art, music, photography, drama and gaming


Whatever happens, someone has to build it

None of those ideas is outrageous, and some will only require the minimum of change. All this can be serviced by trams, park and ride, or even rickshaws to reduce parking, pollution and noise, which need to be designed, surveyed and built.

The location of retail is moving from the high street to inside people’s homes, and the physical space currently dominated by retail will simply change. Where will you be?


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