Check-out free and more barbers - is this the high street of the future?
In just a few years, our high streets have evolved rapidly. Lauren Cope looks at what Norwich’s might be like in the future.
It’s no secret that high streets have had to weather enormous change in the last few years.
A combination of rising business rates and changing consumer trends, namely towards online shopping, has, in many cases, left them struggling.
Household names have closed, and it has proved a tricky climate for independent businesses.
But some parts of Norwich appear to be bucking the trend - earlier this month traders in the Lanes say they enjoyed a record-breaking start to the year, with one seeing the best Christmas season in 27 years and another doubling its turnover in six months.
And Norwich market recently scooped a national award naming it the best large outdoor market in the country, as it continues to thrive.
So as the way we shop alters, what might a future high street look like?
More than shops
Retail experts predict that we’ll see more leisure options filling empty units, including bowling alleys and cinemas.
At Castle Mall, which has lost major shops including Argos, Mothercare and Poundworld in the last few years, units have been filled with community projects, including a children’s club and a ping-pong parlour.
Earlier this month, it was announced that PureGym would be taking over the 16,000 square foot former Argos site in summer, while bowling alley Superbowl is set to open in the coming months.
Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the Norwich-based Centre for Retail Research, said things like gyms, wellness centres and fitness centres were likely to thrive going forward, with “experiential” likely to be the buzzword for future high streets.
“People are spending less on goods and more on experience, and the challenge for Norwich is to make the most of that,” he said.
Robert Bradley, Castle Mall manager, has previously agreed that consumers are spending more on leisure experiences than ever before, as much as up to 43pc of discretionary expenditure.
Shopping centre network intu, which runs intu Chapelfield, has filled some of its larger units around the country with cinemas, climbing walls and escape rooms.
While shops and pubs may be facing challenging times, the number of coffee shops around the country continues to boom.
Nationally, there are 20,000 outlets around the country, worth about £9bn, and it’s expected those figures could grow to £15bn and more than 30,000 units by 2020.
By 2035, some say the number of coffee shops will overtake the number of pubs.
Figures from October last year show that the number of unlicensed eateries, which includes coffee shops and fast food spots, has risen by 66.6pc in Norwich since 2010.
But the number of pubs in Norwich dropped by 21.4pc in the same time.
Elaine Reilly, who owns Mustard Coffee Bar in Bridewell Alley, said while it was good to see a thriving independent scene in Norwich, continued growth could spell trouble for existing businesses.
“There’s only a certain amount of custom that can go around,” she said. “If you thin that out enough then someone starts struggling.”
She said another concern going forward was office space being turned into residential use, which impacted negatively on businesses.
She said in the last few years, the team had noticed that highs and lows are “more extreme”, and added: “When you are busy you are rushed off your feet, but when it’s quiet it’s completely dead. It’s now never in between, which some cafés have found hard.”
As we head to the high street to socialise, we’ll also increasingly be turning to it for haircuts and pampering, experts predict.
The number of beauty and grooming salons has risen around the UK, with hairdressers, barbers and nail bars increasing by 45pc in Norwich since 2010.
When the figures were released last year, Charlotte Sims, who owns Charisma on Farmers Avenue in Norwich, said she had seen a massive increase in demand, taking on three new members of staff to cope.
It reflects predictions made by the Centre for Retail Research, which says barbers and nail salons are likely to become more common on the future high street, along with convenience shops, vape stores, takeaways, tattoo parlours and coffee shops.
They predict, though, that we’ll see less fashion and clothing shops, shoe shops, betting shops, antique shops and book shops.
Professor Bamfield said: “Facilities that show people how to use things and do things will do well. In terms of fashion, IT, health and fitness, there are a lot of things where many people need a bit of help and training to make the most of it.”
He said shops like Thorns, a DIY shop in the Lanes which has been trading since 1835, could remain strong in that climate through its advice to customers and tips on how to fix problems.
Contactless payments, whether through debit and credit cards or smartphone apps such as Apple Pay, have already soared in popularity.
In October last year, figures showed that contactless payments jumped by about 30pc in stores between June 2016 and June last year, overtaking those made by chip and pin.
Tesco has announced it is trialling a check-out free Scan Pay Go app, which allows customers to scan and pay for items using their smartphones.
Co-op has pay-in-the-aisle technology, while Sainsbury’s has confirmed it trialled a similar app in 2017.
Amazon recently launched a queue-free shop in Seattle, completely free of check-outs. Customers pick up the item they want, walk out of the store - and cameras log what they’ve taken and charge their account when they leave.
And Chinese retail giant Alibaba has walk-out supermarkets, where customers buy groceries in store using an app, and can have them delivered to their home within 30 minutes.
• The Norwich Society and Evening News are holding a public debate about the future of the city at the Forum on Tuesday, February 19 at 6pm. Admission is free, but booking here is recommended.
• Our Future of Norwich takeover week is brought to you in association with Norwich City Council and Norwich Business Improvement District (BID).