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Boom in tattoo parlours, hairdressers and cafes on the high street

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

Back to the future for the high street as independents and services replace retail giants, according to Which?

Services such as cafés, markets, and tattoo parlours have thrived as major retailers struggle amid concerns for the future of the UK high street.

Which? analysed almost 1.5 million Ordnance Survey (OS) business records to compare Britain’s retail and services landscape from 2014 to 2019. It found that many high streets are moving away from being carbon copies of one another.

Instead, a model more familiar to older generations is re-emerging in some areas – with flourishing personal services, markets, and food specialists that focus on “experiences” replacing retailers hit directly by the rise of online shopping.

Personal services on the up

The analysis found businesses offering personal services that cannot be replicated easily online – such as hair and beauty services, tattoo and piercing shops, and funeral directors – have boomed.

Of the 10 sectors that have seen an increase in premises on UK high streets, six are categorised as “eating out and services”, with the biggest increase since 2014 seen in banqueting and function rooms (114 per cent).

This was followed by markets, one of the few sectors categorised as a retailer in the top 10, which saw an increase of 52 per cent between 2014 and 2019.

Tattooing and piercing services increased their presence on the high street by 44 per cent; cafés, snack bars and tea rooms by 35 per cent; and hair and beauty services by 31 per cent.

Hardest hit sectors

Of the 10 hardest hit sectors, only two were categorised as offering personal services – fast food delivery services (-50 per cent) and internet cafés (-36 per cent). The rest were categorised as retailers.

The most negatively impacted sector was book and map sellers – the first to be hit by the rise of Amazon – which saw a reduction of 70 per cent over the five-year period.

Other sectors to suffer include computer shops (-56 per cent), shops selling second hand supplies (-44 per cent), electrical goods and components sellers (-39 per cent) and art and antique stores (-41 per cent).

Death of the high street

Despite ongoing concerns regarding the “death of the high street”, businesses offering services or experiences that cannot be replicated online have prospered in the face of the booming digital economy.

A number of department stores and fashion chains, such as Topshop, have started offering hair and beauty services or coffee shops, and some even offering tattoo and piercing services within their stores, in an effort to keep pace with the changing high street landscape.

Some computing, phone and electronic shops have also jumped on this trend, with many increasingly becoming destinations for repairs or advice rather than places to purchase goods.

Harry Rose, editor of Which? magazine, said:  “While it’s concerning to have seen so many well-loved brands disappear from UK high streets in recent years, our research suggests the future of our town centres isn’t necessarily as bleak as the reports of store closures would have you believe.

“As shoppers needs and habits evolve, it’s vital that businesses keep up with these changing trends and consider how they can grow with them, in order to continue thriving on the high street.”