The great British retail take off: consumers returning to the high street

There is a huge desire to get back to the Britain’s high streets, according to a new survey by Gekko on consumer shopping intentions when lockdown ends. 70 per cent of people are planning on visiting stores as much, or more than pre-pandemic when they reopen in April.

Only two per cent of respondents said they wouldn’t return to the high street. However, nearly half of shoppers want reduced store capacity to continue due to Coronavirus still being in circulation.

The research identified a huge desire and pent up demand to return to the high street with key motivators being the ability to physically interact with products and have an enjoyable experience. When asked what makes people want to return to the high street, 62 per cent said it was the ability to see, hold and try a product, 53 per cent support the high street, while 52 per cent miss the ability to browse. The same number, 52 per cent reported the sheer enjoyment of shopping as a key factor in returning.

With Covid nerves still very much apparent, 86 per cent of respondents don’t want shopping to return to exactly the way it was pre-pandemic. Nearly half of respondents want reduced store capacity to continue, which will be at odds with retailers’ desire to attract the masses back in-store. 61 per cent want to keep hand sanitiser points and nearly a third want more click and collect.

While online has benefited greatly from the pandemic, the research also identified that supporting local businesses is high on consumers’ priorities. Over a third (35 per cent) of respondents revealed they have purchased from a local or independent store that they would not have done pre-pandemic. Over half of men and 49 per cent of women have been more loyal to their local high street stores. Younger people are independent stores’ most supportive group online, with 47 per cent of 18-24 year olds responding saying that they shopped with them.

According to Daniel Todaro, Managing Director of Gekko: “With light now appearing at the end of the tunnel, it is even more important to understand how consumer behaviour may have changed, what people are now used to, and what they are excited about when it comes to returning to physical retail.

“Encouragingly, our research shows despite some less than favourable predictions, the demand for physical retail remains strong. The research shows that absence makes the heart grow fonder with consumers missing the ability to see, hold and try products and the sheer enjoyment that sensory pleasure brings, with online unable to replace this experience.

“However, consumers remain cautious at this stage with a preference for measures to be in place. As the vaccine roll-out continues and lockdown eases, retailers will hope these concerns will fade away.”