Although we may not give it much thought, we do have a place in our hearts for high street brands. Quite often, they hold dear memories and are often our first employers.
As such, it’s devastating whenever a brand goes under. There is panic for employees to find new jobs, and panic for customers to work out store credits. It’s not until they close the shutters for the final time that we fully understand how vital they were to our high street shopping experience.
We analysed the search volume and social media engagement* with our favourite brands to find out which brands we really do miss the most in 2023, so get ready for a little bit of nostalgia as we analyse the past of our high streets.
1. Toys “R” Us – closed in 2018
It’s a magical place, so let’s take a trip there…
Out of 149.7k posts analysed online, 78% of people reacted with love to the toy brand, showing that this huge retailer that was part of many childhoods across the country continues to have deep-rooted sentiments for many of us.
Toys “R” Us opened their first UK store in 1985, and at its peak had over 105 stores across the country. The stores were huge retail units offering everything from board games, bikes, the latest crazes and even essentials like pushchairs as part of their ‘Babies “R” Us’ side of the business. It was the one-stop-shop for birthdays, Christmases, and was a free alternative to children play areas in school holidays with many a bike often being ridden around the store.
In 2018, it was announced that Toys “R” Us UK would be closing all of their 100 stores across the country after failing to find a new owner after their US parent company filed for bankruptcy.
However, in 2022, it was announced that Toys “R” Us would be reopening in the UK, online and in WHSmith stores across the country. The Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us UK website relaunched before Christmas 2022, with retailer WHSmith to launch a ‘small scale trial’ of Toys “R” Us areas in nine of its high street stores at the beginning of 2023.
Iconic for the Toys “R” Us brand is Geoffrey the Toys “R” Us Giraffe. He first appeared in print ads throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, growing in popularity with kids of all ages. He’s safely back in the UK after appearing in the latest relaunched Toys “R” Us advert.
2. Woolworths – closed in 2009
As the shutters closed on the chain’s final 199 shopfronts in market towns across the UK in 2009, a significant piece of high street history faded away. Woolworths was the place to get the majority of things you needed – where else would the UK turn to in desperate times? If you needed a bag of pick ‘n’ mix, a wardrobe of children’s clothes and a new CD… Woolworths was the place to go!
Woolworths became a hot topic on social media in 2020 after a rumour of its imminent return got people searching for Woolworths on Google and Twitter – because let’s face it: we all wanted it to return just for the nostalgia of better days! Sadly, this rumour turned out to be a hoax. But with 44% of people talking about the topic on social media saying that they loved the news about the return of the brand, it proves Woolies still has a place in many of our hearts.
3. Mothercare – closed in 2020
Mothercare was a huge retailer for parents across the UK, with it being part of many parent’s lives at such an important time. Therefore, it would come as no surprise that 55% of people engaged with a sad reaction to the brand’s collapse announcement on social media.
In November 2019, Mothercare announced it was to close it’s UK business after calling in administrators. The company, which opened its first store in 1961, had frequently struggled to compete with cheap supermarket clothing ranges and the rise of online shopping. Mothercare had previously been part of the Storehouse Group which consisted of Mothercare, Habitat and BHS, but the group broke up when BHS was sold to Sir Philip Green.
Many parents had huge emotional attachments to the brand, with Mothercare being the leading childrenswear chain in the UK. Mothercare sold a range of clothing and home and travel products, such as pushchairs and car seats, providing essentials to parents. Mothercare stores were extremely busy with the build up to their closures as their closing down sales provided great bargains for new parents.
Mothercare has since completed a franchise deal with Boots, meaning the pharmacy chain can now sell Mothercare-branded products within Boots stores, allowing the brand to return to the high street. The Mothercare website has now also moved to the Boots website, allowing new parents to continue to purchase from the brand as usual.
4. Blockbuster – closed in 2013
Blockbuster still has a very well-deserved place on our nostalgia list. It collapsed into administration back in 2013, being a huge casualty to the high street with the closure of 528 stores! It joined several other brands, including Jessops, HMV (which survived administration again, and again…and again) and electrical chain Comet, in being affected by online competition.
Blockbuster was known for being a place of happiness, especially when going to rent a bunch of movies for a sleepover with your friends. You can spend hours walking up and down the aisles, reading the back of every case trying to pick a selection to rent with your blue Blockbuster card.
Could we ever see a return of Blockbuster? Sadly, probably not. With online streaming services such as Netflix and Disney Plus, a revival of Blockbuster would be for pure nostalgia and zero convenience. Netflix doesn’t charge any late fees after all!
But with 3.6k searches every month for the brand, it’s clear to see we have never forgotten them!
5. BHS (British Home Stores) – closed in 2016
With 30% of people reacting sad to the collapse of the brand, blame was certainly pointed at Sir Philip Green’s management of the group.
British Home Stores, or mostly known as BHS, was one of our largest department store chains (similar to Debenhams), selling clothing and household items. In its later years, BHS expanded into furniture, electronics, entertainment, beauty and even convenience groceries.
BHS was part of the Arcadia Group, managed by Sir Philip Green who later sold BHS for £1 in March 2015 to Retail Acquisitions Ltd led by the serial bankrupt Dominic Chappel, almost set for failure.
All BHS stores closed by late August 2016, being the biggest retail collapse after Woolworths. Despite not being known for anything outstanding, it was a huge part of the British highstreet and was hugely missed as many of the city centre’s largest retail units were left empty.
The rest of the Arcadia Group suffered the same fate as BHS in 2021 as they collapsed, leading to the loss of Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and more. These brands were later moved online and bought by ASOS and Boohoo. The BHS brand was later bought and now operates online selling ceiling lighting.
With BHS being part of our high street for such a long time, feelings were strong around the closure of the stores.
The past and future of our high streets
Kevin Mountford, personal financial expert and co-founder of Raisin UK, had this outlook for the future of our high streets.
“In the past year, we’ve seen many brands such as Debenhams, Wallis, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Topshop and Topman being snapped up by online giants Boohoo and ASOS. With high street rent high and footfall low, as time goes on, we will be seeing more ‘online-based’ fashion brands doing the same thing. Yes, physical stores may have to close, but with an online presence, brands can now be stretched to serve younger audiences?
“With these online brands able to tap into their audience demographic, is there a chance for older brands to be re-born and start from scratch, appealing to newer audiences without the price tag. Online presence is absolutely key.
“Even though this would be a huge step forward for retail business, we have to also remember that after this pandemic, consumers are perhaps more than ever wanting to go out and physically purchase rather than online shop – and the more we turn these brands into virtual high street blocks, the less consumer-facing experience a customer has.
“With energy prices hiking, and consumers facing an increase in National Insurance, there will be less disposable income to spend meaning our high street may be particularly quiet as people start to take extra care when it comes to their savings.
“It’s going to be a difficult balance, and it’s positive to see other brands like Toys R Us recommitting to the UK high street with the recent announcement of new stores and new staff, giving hints that the UK high street is looking more desirable. The UK high street is a volatile place to be, but it has been for the past 5 years. What we are witnessing is brands that were already struggling finally collapsing and the stronger brands succeeding more than ever.”
The most missed retailers in the UK were calculated by looking at the Google search volumes of major brands that collapsed after being on the UK high street, calibrated with social media sentiment insights from content of news outlets regarding the brands, using Buzzsumo data. The source of this data is from Buzzsumo’s data from January 2022 to January 2023.