20 ways the British high street has changed in the past 20 years

Digital and innovation

22 September 2017

Two decades is a long time in retail, and nowhere has felt the pace of change more than the local high street.

Here are twenty ways our high streets have changed since 1997.

The high street BC (Before Coffee)

Coffee culture wasn't a thing in 1997 – back then, a shopping stop meant a quick cuppa in the BHS cafe. London got its first Starbucks the following year.

It’s convenient

In 1997, we could choose between the local Spar or the corner shop. Today, there are mini supermarkets on every corner. Opinion is divided on their pros and cons – but they certainly attract customers to the high street.

Artisans and crafts

And we also have independent shops selling local artisan produce, craft beers, fancy breads, hand-made chocolates – the list is practically endless.

Get away...

The presence of high street travel agents has fallen in the last couple of decades, with 76% of holidays now booked online. We miss those piles of glossy brochures.

Permanent changes

In 1997, tattoos were more likely to raise a (natural) eyebrow. Now, 29% of adults under 44 have tattoos and tattoo parlours are up 173% over the last decade.

It’s for charity

There are 10,500 charity shops in Britain and Ireland. Are we more charitable than we once were – or just having difficulties filling commercial units?

Where’s Woolworths?

Gaps have been left by once-indestructible giants: BHS, C&A, Dixons, Woolworths... Pick 'n' mix just isn’t the same from a supermarket.

Out-of-town shops

The out-of-town shopping centre was a novelty in the ‘90s. Now we travel to them without even thinking – and so have many high street clothing stores.

No more rentertaining

With more affordable electrical goods, there’s little need for companies like Radio Rentals. Blockbuster tried to adapt, but couldn’t compete with on-demand streaming.

Electrical impulse shopping

1997 saw the first MP3 player mass-produced in South Korea, while we admired the latest Discman in Comet. Comet closed its doors in 2012, and today electrical goods are rarely bought in town.

Phoning it in

20 years ago, we still used public payphones. These days, they’re upcycled as quirky shower cubicles. Instead, we have...

Mobile power

British consumers are set to spend £27 billion this year via m-commerce, moving custom away from traditional retail. However, every Cloud has a silver lining, and there are a lot of phone shops around.

Not processing

It was always so exciting to take your holiday snaps to be processed – and then digital took off. Photography chain Jessops went into administration in 2013 but, thanks to Dragon Peter Jones, is starting to reappear on our high streets.

Life after dark

As shops left, bars and restaurants moved in. This has been a positive change for the high street, which used to be tumbleweed central after six o’clock.

Closing time

However, the town boozer has been a loser, with CAMRA claiming that British pubs are closing at a rate of 27 every week.

Take it away

Thanks to food delivery services like Deliveroo, Hungry House and Just Eat, takeaway restaurants are up 45% since 1997.

A healthy economy

Contrarily, we’re also healthier, with high street health clubs and gyms popping up faster than we can run to them.

Stay beautiful

We also like to look good. In 2016, more beauty salons opened on the UK high street than any other type of business.

Paying up

Remember when some shops took only cash, or accepted cheques? These days, even antique shops have chip and PIN machines.

Odds in favour?

Want to bet on the next high street trend? Easy. Betting shops are on the up, with an increase of around 50% since 2004.

But is a changing high street really all bad news for local retailers? What does this mean for the future of the high street and how can you keep your business relevant in the face of change? 

We’re taking a look into the past of some of the UK’s busiest shopping destinations to pull out some lessons history can teach your business about staying the course in retail, in Retail: Then and Now