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High Street History

High Street History

Consumer expert Harry Wallop explains why the British high street has become a shopping paradise for interiors fans.

Not since the glory days of Habitat launching in the 1960s has the high street offered such a range of exciting and well-priced stuff to fill our homes with. The recent financial crisis and the resulting recession has fundamentally changed the way we shop. Yes, many companies suffered, but it also encouraged new players to open up, and forced the survivors to be more innovative about what they sell. Here are the key factors that have transformed the British shopping environment into what we see today...

The recession.

The financial crisis gave the high street a much needed shake up.

The most obvious result of the recession was that lots of businesses went bust. This, of course, was awful for the companies’ owners and employees. But it is hard to mourn some of the chains that disappeared. Land of Leather and Allied Carpets hardly set the pulses racing. And many analysts argued that Britain simply had too many shops - be it out-of-town supermarkets or warehouses selling uninspiring upholstered furniture. According to Conlumino, a retail consultancy, the furniture market - as a result of all the closures - is much smaller than it was before the financial crash. In fact, we are now spending £4.3 billion a year less on furniture. However, this sector’s once junior cousin, the furnishings and decor market, is booming. The high street has been quick to react to this change, offering shoppers ever­growing choice.

The housing market.

How an increase in the number of renters has affected shopping habits.

The success - or failure - of furniture shops on the high street used to be very closely tied to the housing market. The more people who move home, the more carpets and kitchens are sold. So, one of the main effects of the housing market tanking in 2008 was the collapse of some furniture chains. Recently, however, there has been a change in the market - namely, a significant rise in renting. Before the housing crash, a peak of 71 per cent of people owned their own home in Britain. This has now fallen to 63 per cent - it may not sound much of a drop, but this is the first time since World War I that the number of homeowners in Britain has fallen and it means that millions more people, especially young people, are renting. They don’t need new kitchens or carpets, but they do want products that will help them to personalise their space.

The fashion effect.

We now shop for our homes like we do for our wardrobes.

The demise of the big, out-of-town furniture warehouses has led to a curious, and rather exciting, revolution on the high street. You can now find chaises longues, beautiful mid­century-style chests of drawers, ceramic balloon dogs and natty ottomans at a wide variety of different outlets: fashion chains, department stores, new American entrants such as West Elm and Anthropologie, and even pound shops. It may seem an odd idea to buy your lampshades from Zara Home or H&M, but these two are really motoring at the moment.

Nivindya Sharma, analyst at Verdict Retail, explains the logic: ‘Shopping for homewares and clothing involves very similar mindsets: they’re both trend-driven. Traditionally interiors shops only brought out new products twice a year, but that has changed. People now want to refresh their homes more frequently.’

The newest players - like stylish European discount shops Tiger and Hema - refresh their ranges every few weeks. Pop in and there are always new bowls or candlesticks. It’s these inexpensive yet on-trend brands that are setting the tone for the entire high street.

Style credentials.

High-street brands are harnessing the power of designer names.

The big recent high-street successes include the resurgent Debenhams and John Lewis. One of the things that connects these brands is their focus on design credentials. Take Designers at Debenhams: the initiative now sees the store working with 18 well-known creatives, meaning that you can buy everything from tumblers by John Rocha to bedlinen by Matthew Williamson.

But while shoppers do like a designer name attached to their homewares, collaborations do not always work. A few years ago, Marks & Spencer released a range created by Marcel Wanders, the maverick Dutch designer. No one outside of the design world had heard of him, and certainly not the average M&S shopper who had popped across from the lingerie department.

Maureen Hinton, retail analyst at Conlumino, explains: ‘The general public are not as aware of designers in homeware as they are of their fashion equivalents. Instead, it’s all to do with credibility.’ This is partly why DFS’s tie-up with French Connection has been such a big hit - DFS shoppers have heard of French Connection and associate it with fashionability.

Furnishings not furniture.

Why high-street shops are focusing on selling smaller, decorative items.

The recession, you might think, would have dealt a fatal blow to furniture shops. But it didn’t. Some went under, but those that survived are more vibrant than ever before. The difference is that we now spend more on the fun, decorative stuff than we do on statement pieces. In fact, this area is growing faster than most other sectors of the high street, with sales up three per cent last year. One of the habits that the British public picked up in the financial crash - and one we are holding onto - is spending more time in our own homes, entertaining and relaxing. We want stylish ways to spruce up these spaces, and an affordable throw is an easier update than investing in a new sofa.

14-03-2016, 10:12
Autor: kastiel
Views: 1 020

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