More than a third of customers are visiting their local high street less often than they did two years ago, according to exclusive Retail Week research.

Customers are increasingly deserting shopping on their local high streets in favour of online, according to new research compiled by Walnut Unlimited (formerly ICM) exclusively for Retail Week.

The survey shows that 36% of 2,040 consumers shopped on their local high street less often than they did two years ago. In response to the question of how often respondents visited their local high street, 55% said it was ‘about the same’ as it had been the year before but only 8% said they were visiting more often than they had been in 2018. 

Two-thirds of survey respondents also said they felt that the number of occupied shop units on the high street had worsened in the past five years.

According to figures from the Local Data Company in 2014, there were just under 23,000 store closures compared to just under 21,000 openings, but around 2017 the figures diverged sharply. In 2018 there were 24,000 store closures reported in the first half of the year, compared with less than 20,000 store openings. 

In terms of the variety of stores on their local high street, 58% of respondents said that had got worse over the past 12 months, compared with 51% of respondents in 2018. It was a common perception among respondents that “all high streets are the same” when it came to brands and goods for sale. 

Walnut said this fact was “concerning at a time when retailers are facing major changes in shopping habits, a weak growth in retail sales, and a growth in government-imposed costs, such as business rates, the national living wage, rising employer pension contributions and the apprenticeship levy”.

Despite this, 81% of survey respondents said it was either somewhat or very important to them to see their local high street thrive. This sentiment was strongest among the 55-year-old and above cohort, with 85% of respondents, compared with 82% of those aged 35 to 54 and 76% of those aged between 18 and 34.

Walnut Unlimited’s data found that what shoppers want from their high streets remains unchanged from last year and overwhelmingly includes things such as more independent shops and free parking. The findings also saw slight increases in a desire for community centres and local theatres.

The younger the respondent, the more likely they are to want experiences from their high streets; such as restaurants, cafés and coffee shops, cinemas as well as bars, pubs and clubs.

Walnut Unlimited retail research director Amy Nichols said: “Despite the uncertainty around Brexit, there has not been much of a shift in high street opinion over the last year.

“Depending on where we live, our identity and self-esteem is wrapped up in retail – what, for example, is a ‘market town’ if it doesn’t have a market?

“We need a better understanding of what people actually visit the UK high street for, versus their expectations of what a high street should deliver.”