Will Consumers Visit a Socially Distanced High Street?

The big question every UK business is facing will soon be answered – when we open will they come? Digital consumer intelligence helps uncover how things will look, as well as trouble spots that shops should pay attention to during these early days of reopening. And it looks very different for restaurants, retail and service shops. We’ll take a look at all three!

High Street shops, in particular, are nervously speculating if hesitant consumers will visit the new and socially distanced stores. The online conversation offers insight, which we’ll share, along with:

  • Tactics restaurants are using to engage customers
  • How retail shops are moving with the times to stay current and open
  • Safety and the service industry intel – what is being said, and how customers feel about it

And we will look at Statistics to help separate fact from fiction and give shops a winning edge, a few we’ve uncovered include:

  • 55% of UK consumers want to support local businesses because of lockdown
  • Ecommerce may play savior to brick and mortars, and by the year 2040, as much as 95% of shopping will be facilitated by it.
  • Eighty-four percent of consumers will buy from a brand they follow on social media over competitors

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High Street Shops Are Skeptical

Post-coronavirus shopping on high street is “more dystopian than Blade Runner” and with a 4.2% drop in retail prices in May, concern is only logical. We see conversational clusters in subjects ranging from UK High Street Sales Slump to Popular Food Restaurants.


And the timeline of conversation has shifted. UK High Street Sale Slump (teal) occupies most discussion over the past six months, while Coronavirus Lockdown to Adaptation has gained momentum in the past three months, Popular Food Restaurants has waned, and then picked up speed and then slowed again since March:


Though High Street sales were slumping well before coronavirus struck, 55% of consumers want to support businesses because of COVID-19’s effect on them. So, in an ironic move, it may be the pandemic that could save shopping for High Street in the end.

Let’s explore.

Restaurants Rebuild with Socially Distant Changes

Reopening is less than a week off for UK restaurants, where take-out has become the standard.

“We’ve had to adapt and change the way we do things,” says Al Bramley co-owner of The Mexican restaurant on Ware High Street. They began accepting online orders through WhatsApp, and in one weekend alone they received 150 orders. They’ve stayed busy and kept consumers happy. Our word cloud shows an overwhelmingly positive outcome.


Costa Coffee threw their hat in the ring recently as well. And as demand grew, they reopened 501 stores.


Summary metrics show us how welcome this decision was. Positive net sentiment is sitting pretty at 65%.


The recent efforts of High Street restaurants, with the combined love from its communities, could drive lasting brand loyalty – and an appreciation for High Street shops that was formerly taken for granted.

Our Brand Passion Index tells all, with restaurant The Mexican soaring almost out of view with both passion and sentiment. Conversation for Costa Coffee is significantly larger than The Mexican, yielding less sentiment and passion, but it’s still in the sweet spot.


The name of the game is perseverance and restaurants are eager to play during this time of limbo.

And no one plays limbo more stylishly than retail.

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Retail, Ecommerce and Apps Enter Social Distancing Era

Retailers adapting to the demands of the times isn’t new, their sea legs are strong and resilient. They know a few things, including:

  • Utilization of apps to bridge the gap of online shopping to brick and mortar
  • How to evolve to meet the times, and consumer demands
  • How closely monitoring shifting consumer sentiment is the way to win!

UK shoppers are hesitant about shopping. Understatement:


However, business owners remain hopeful.

Small business owner Julia Chesterman has a combination book shop and tea room called The Book Nook. Like most shops, she temporarily closed her doors. However, she isn’t out of the game.

Creating Meaningful Connections

Chesterman knows the value of using social media as free advertisement. She uses it to show her charitable side by creating a book drive for schools, as well as showing her customers how they can help a child in need through her store.


As far as reopening goes, she is confident that she can do it safely and is thinking about those schematics. And she is wise to do so, as terms such as hand-cleaning stations and changing room let us know that safety is the big concern.


Shops along these popular city centers would be smart to monitor consumers to follow the ever-changing attitudes towards post-pandemic shopping and habits made while in lockdown.

This safety push is what has forced many retailers online, of course – and the stats are encouraging them to stay there (or at least maintain robust presence there):

But there’s a happy medium to consider as well, one that can make a fortunate marriage of high street shopping and ecommerce – Streetify.


Users of Streetify can visit virtual storefronts and build individual “high streets,” while merchants can connect through advertisements and messaging. It hopes to “generate interest in brick-and-mortar locations and create jobs on some of the streets consumers will visit.”

Studies reveal by 2040  95% of shopping  will be online, and sales will reach $6.5 trillion in 2023. Apps like Streetify could be the future answer.

But this isn’t really an option for some sectors of the service industry though….

Service Industry Muscling It Out

In the middle of this post-pandemic storm we find the service industry and its workers, such as High Street shop owner Anne Murray of Mint Salon. Murray expresses concern over whether people will come when she re-opens.

Not letting grass grow under her feet, she has continued to stay sharply in consumer’s focus by engaging  social media as a way to advertise. Perhaps she knows that 84% of consumers will buy from a brand they follow on social media over a competitor.


Social media ads amounted to $89 billion in 2019 and are projected to reach or surpass $102 billion in 2020. So a bit of personalized, word of mouth-worthy attention is well worth the time investment, assuming it’s targeted appropriately!

Murray recognizes that business such as hers are very intimate, and there is no way to get a virtual haircut, so PPE may be essential. As in retail, safety is at the center of the service industry conversation. And summary metrics illuminate consumer readiness. Over the past month, safety concerns have produced 152,113 posts, but interestingly – and optimistically, net sentiment is positive despite fears.


Emotions are high, but with hesitation. Consumer emotions show they are ready, excited and pleased. And emotion, studies suggest, are what fuel consumer purchase behavior. So, services are rightfully getting ready for a slow and steady influx of clients.


Is your High Street shop ready as well? It’s time to dig in to relevant consumer and market intelligence to see what your consumers expect. Be sure to reach out for a demo!

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