Are Millennials Killing the High Street? Probably Not, But Let’s Blame Them Anyway.

Millennials are always killing some industry or another. Now that Debenhams has gone into administration, the question on everyone’s lips is the classic “who is to blame?”.

Of course, Millennials are top of the list. In 2018, Buzzfeed compiled a list of all the things millennials are killing. Among things like mayonnaise and napkins (yes, that happened), millennials were also blamed for the decline in restaurants like Hooters (who hadn’t considered that their sexist business model just didn’t appeal to the younger generation) and drink-driving convictions (which can surely only be a good thing). But attributing the decline of high streets and shops to one generation is nothing less than short-sighted.

For a start, the rise in online shopping has been a clear factor in the declining footfall to high streets. This is not new information. Consumers and businesses have known for years that E-Commerce sales have been on the rise, and this has had a direct impact on the number of people entering town centres, with the effects only intensifying due to millennials and Gen X (i.e. the internet generations) growing up, buying their own clothes, and preferring to shop online.

It’s not just our shopping habits – society as a whole has changed due to the instant gratification offered by the internet and social media. We are constantly connected, and where young people are moving more towards using social media as a way to build relationships (however superficial) we are all moving towards online shopping for the instant high, and the convenience. Going out to a town centre in your pyjamas is frowned upon, but no one will judge you for shopping in your bed.

And, realistically, if you can do something from the comfort of your own home, why would you leave the house? People are preferring to socialise at home, or at a coffee shop, rather than through shopping, as shopping can often be a personal and frustrating experience. Better to order the clothes online and try them at home, rather than spending hours in a changing room, only to leave empty handed.

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Retail has changed. The entire landscape of society has changed. So it’s up to businesses to change in line with their consumers. While part of the problem is that online shopping can offer instant gratification where in-store shopping cannot, a bigger part is that online shopping adds value to people’s lives. They are spending less time shopping, exerting less effort into their purchases, and then still have time to do everything else – watch Game of Thrones; write blogs and plan holidays. Here’s where Topshop and Primark have got it right. The Topshop on Oxford Street is always busy. Why? Well, it’s not because people are necessarily buying from Topshop. Rather, they are enticed by the various experiences on offer – Lola’s cupcakes, Blow Dry Bars and Nail Salons, all within the multi-storey store. These retailers are offering people things that they can’t get from the comfort of their own homes, and therefore increasing the footfall in their stores. Rather than just shopping, consumers are able to turn the task into a social event again, breathing new life into high streets.

But is it too late? Well, for Debenhams and House of Fraser, maybe. But other retailers should recognise the trend. Millennials, and the generations to follow, are no longer impressed by just going to the shops. They need more – they need experiences. Give them an excuse to post about your store on social media, and the footfall will come. Fail to do so, and more retailers risk the fall from grace, and millennials probably won’t even miss them.

Photo by Sake Le on

What do you think is causing the decline in our high streets?

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Anamika Talwaria

Anamika is Editorial Assistant at Build It. When she's not writing about bespoke homes, she can be found travelling the world and drinking cocktails wherever she goes!

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