By Ryan Broadfoot


The UK’s high streets are changing at a rapid rate, with big-name brands shutting shop and a reported nearly 8% drop in footfall across the UK’s high streets since pre-pandemic levels. Now with the cost of living crisis, people are constantly looking for the best deals they can find, and with the quickest and most convenient way to shop for many being online - what does this mean for the future of our high streets?

The Savoo team wanted to know what key information is out there that can give us a glimpse into the future of the UK’s high streets. With talk of AI taking over 20% of retail jobs in the near future, we thought where better than to begin with asking AI the question: ‘What will our UK high streets look like in the future?’

We spoke to AI to find out more about the future of the high street - from the types of online stores we can expect to find in brick-and-mortar shops, to some of the key features customers can expect to find. We then teamed up with Retail Interior Design Specialist, Verity Gray, to comment on the AI results.

Additionally, the team has looked into the UK’s high streets funding, store openings and closures and high street spending habits in 28 major UK cities to determine which locations have the most optimistic future for their high streets.

AI predicts Amazon, Etsy and ASOS to make an appearance on UK high streets in the next five years

AI has the capacity to predict trends using online resources and available data, so with a breadth of knowledge at its fingertips, what does AI predict the UK’s high streets will look like in five years' time?

When we asked ChatGPT ‘can you predict which online shops will open on the high street in the UK in the next 5 years’, their AI bot suggests that the following three online e-commerce stores may appear in the future:

  • Amazon: As one of the largest online retailers in the world, Amazon has been experimenting with brick-and-mortar stores for several years now. In the UK, the company already operates several Amazon Go stores and Amazon Books locations, and may continue to expand its physical presence in the country.
  • Etsy: Etsy is a popular online marketplace for handmade and vintage items, and has been growing in popularity in recent years. The company has opened a few temporary physical shops in the US and the UK, and may consider opening more permanent locations in the future.
  • ASOS: ASOS is a UK-based online fashion retailer that has seen significant growth in recent years. The company has already experimented with a few pop-up shops and may consider opening more permanent locations in the future.

AI does say that It's ‘important to note that this is just speculation and that the retail landscape is constantly evolving’, but reports online of the top performing e-commerce sites would also agree that these three online giants are some of the best performing online retailers in 2023 in the UK.

UK high street reimagined with the help of AI

The Savoo team has taken key elements from ChatGPT’s predictions to create our High Streets Reimagined designs:

Exterior high street reimagined - Illustrated high street showing Amazon and Asos shops

When asked what ASOS would look like as an in-person store concept, AI told us;

'The store could offer interactive experiences for customers, such as virtual reality dressing rooms or styling consultations with a fashion expert. This would provide an opportunity for customers to try on different looks and get personalised advice on styling.'

ASOS is known for its easy returns and exchanges policy. An in-person store could offer a similar policy, with a dedicated space for returns and exchanges to make the process more convenient for customers.

ASOS is an online retailer that utilises technology to provide a seamless shopping experience. An in-person store could offer similar tech-savvy features, such as digital price tags, interactive displays, or a mobile app that customers can use to scan items and check out.

Overall, an ASOS physical store would likely be a modern and stylish space that reflects the brand's online aesthetic, with trendy and affordable clothing, interactive experiences, and tech-savvy features to provide a seamless shopping experience for customers.’

ASOS Interior Concept - Illustration showing multiple people shopping

ASOS Interior Concept 2 - Illustration showing multiple people shopping with labels overlaid

And for Etsy? AI tells us;

*‘If Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade, vintage, and unique goods, were to have an in-person store, it would likely be a physical representation of the website, filled with a diverse range of creative and eclectic items. Just like on the website, the in-person store would feature one-of-a-kind and handmade items, such as jewellery, pottery, clothing, and home decor. Customers could browse and purchase items they might not find in traditional brick-and-mortar stores.'

‘Etsy is known for connecting local artisans with customers all over the world. An in-person store would likely feature both local and international vendors, giving customers a chance to connect with artists from all over.'

‘The store could be organised into different sections based on themes, such as vintage clothing, artisanal jewellery, or handmade furniture. This would make it easier for customers to find the types of items they are interested in. The store could offer interactive experiences for customers, such as workshops or demonstrations on how to create some of the items sold in the store. This would provide an opportunity for customers to learn about the process and the people behind the items they purchase.'

'Etsy is known for its personalised shopping experience, where customers can communicate directly with vendors to request custom items. An in-person store could provide a similar experience, with vendors available to discuss custom orders and help customers find the perfect item.’

Etsy Interior imagined - Illustration showing people shopping in a physical store

Etsy Interior imagined 2 - Illustration showing people shopping in a physical store with labels overlaid

We spoke to Retail Interior Design Specialist, Verity Gray, who has given us her opinion on AI’s predictions for the future of the UK’s high streets;

“I think that the general statements about Amazon, Etsy and ASOS are true…The comments about how ASOS may look in a physical store are also fair assumptions. However, it would not be impossible to offer the full range in a store, so a hybrid of tech and physical shopping would have to happen. I would predict that store space would be used as a marketing tool for launches and events. It would be ever-changing, creating a social media buzz and attracting a younger crowd of consumers who already shop with ASOS."

“I also agree with the AI predictions for Etsy, but I think the emphasis would be on seasonality. It’s less likely to be a fixed store split into categories but used more like a pop-up store for Etsy sellers. I think workshops and classes would be very in line with Etsy’s brand values."

Plymouth has the strongest high street in the UK

By looking into metrics such as the opening and closings of chain stores around the UK, share of high street services that are vacant, number of retail job opportunities and the High Street Recovery Tracker, we have created an index to show which UK cities have the strongest high streets.

Plymouth comes out on top as the city with the strongest high street, with the highest overall index recovery score (165) of all the cities analysed - which takes into account the footfall in each city centre in comparison to pre-lockdown - along with the highest scores for weekday, weekend and night time footfall.

Blackpool comes second with the highest spend score (195) and a high overall recovery index score. These are the top 10 UK cities with the strongest high streets in 2023:

City No of openings in 2022 in the region No of closures in 2022 in the region Share of High Street services vacant (%) Spend Index Score Overall Recovery Index Score Weekday index score Weekend index score Night time index score Total no. of retail jobs
Plymouth 747 1306 19% 127 165 176 186 133 53
Blackpool 1025 1931 25% 195 160 122 161 132 177
Southend-on-Sea 810 1320 25% 129 143 127 154 177 221
Sunderland 315 670 28% 109 126 130 163 113 174
Southampton 1380 2253 11% 105 114 108 127 79 327
Swansea 377 630 23% 131 132 121 138 101 66
Preston 1025 1931 23% 107 121 116 132 103 254
Manchester 1025 1931 15% 120 87 88 125 75 472
Liverpool 1025 1931 12% 134 102 106 118 88 127

On the other end of the rankings are London and Birmingham. London scores low across the board with the highest number of chain store closures (2,307 - over 1,000 more than Plymouth who took top spot), lowest spend score (101) and lowest overall recovery index (59). Meanwhile, Birmingham scores particularly low for nighttime footfall (73) and spending (105).

When speaking to retail interiors expert, Verity Gray, about how she sees the UK high streets changing in the next five years she responded;

“I think it is going to be ‘make or break’ time for High Streets. I believe many will thrive if handled and managed well by the local authorities and if they are well supported by the local communities."

Thriving high streets will see the return of markets and community events. I think we will see a more diverse mix of businesses, such as ‘boutique’ cinemas, co-working offices and small businesses that offer workshops and classes as the importance of sustainability grows in consumers.

“Less affluent locations will suffer due to the Cost-of-Living Crisis and the need to find the best value for money. Consumers will be cutting back and not able to support their local cafes, restaurants, and retailers. We will see more empty shops, charity shops, but perhaps more community hubs/support centres and food banks."

And in the long term? Gray tells us we can expect “affluent communities to see their high streets flourish. They will be nurtured and honed over the coming years, community and connection will run deeply in the High Street and it will be almost like a return to the High Street that our grandparents would have known. It will be a place to spend leisure time as well as gathering supplies. With more people working from home, more time will be spent locally.

“However, I think we will see the opposite in more deprived areas where the high street will dissolve and disappear. In towns and communities where ‘value for money’ is the main factor, consumers will look more to online shopping for greater cost comparison and ease."

With the success of UK high streets being pivotal to the country's economy, the UK government created a Future High Streets Fund in 2019. Cities across the UK had to apply for funding with 72 city centres being successful. Locations such as Sunderland and Swindon gained the most funding (£25m each) for the regeneration of their high streets so it will be interesting to see what types of businesses set up shop in these locations.

Luton has the highest number of retail job opportunities in the UK per capita

We looked at 30 cities in the UK to find out how many job opportunities the retail sector is bringing to each city by analysing the number of jobs available for a number of roles including; sales associate, cashier, inventory associate, customer service representative and warehouse clerk.

Luton ranks top for having the highest number of retail jobs per capita (488), followed by Manchester (472) and Reading (462);

Rank City Retail jobs available per 100,000 people
1 Luton 488
2 Manchester 472
3 Reading 462
4 Bradford 328
5 Southampton 327
6 Derby 312
7 Coventry 296
8 Newport 280
9 Northampton 270
10 Nottingham 261

Surprisingly, this was the only metric where Plymouth fell short, with only 53 retail jobs found available per capita when our data was pulled. This led them to a low score in this metric, only beaten by London with just 47 retail jobs available per capita.

Predictions suggest a reduction of over 11,000 chain stores in the UK by 2030

Using available data on chain store openings and closings across the UK in the last five years, our study predicts that by 2030 Greater London will have a record number of chain stores closing (2,399), an increase of 542 from 2022.

The data shows that overall in the UK in 2030 we can expect to see 13,228 chain store closures compared to just 898 chain stores opening on our UK high streets, meaning an overall reduction of around 11,371 chain stores. Regions such as Greater London, West Midlands and the East of the UK are predicted to have no openings of chain stores at all by 2030.

Region Number of closures - 2022 Number of closures - 2030 Number of openings - 2022 Number of openings - 2030
South East 1,592 1,826 1,184 124
Greater London 1,857 2,399 1,208 -143
South West 1,097 1,239 779 83
East of England 1,003 1,077 624 -145
East Midlands 702 826 493 106
West Midlands 1,024 1,262 596 -191
Wales 479 506 327 63
North West 1,444 1,478 1,056 329
Yorkshire and the Humber 973 1,055 618 46
North East 471 481 349 148
Scotland 888 1,078 669 478

Overall in the UK, our study has shown us to expect a considerable shift in what our UK high streets look like in the next 5-10 years. Do you agree with AI’s predictions or do you think other online stores may make an appearance? Who would you like to see appear in your local high street?

Methodology and Sources

The Savoo team used prompts (such as asking what the UK’s high street would look like in the future, as well as which stores it imagines will move from online-only to store front) to gain commentary from AI bot, ChatGPT). Using this commentary, our designers have created imagery of what our high streets would look like if these online shops took over.

We then looked into numerous available online sources that detail the state of the UK’s high streets to date. We created an index using 30 UK cities to find out which have the strongest UK high streets. We then used existing data on store openings and closings from 2018-2022 to predict the future of our UK high streets.

*The following cities were removed from our indexing due to lack of available data: Belfast, Birkenhead, Kingston-upon-Hull, Milton Keynes and Wolverhampton.