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, so get ready for a little bit of nostalgia as we analyse the past of our high streets.
Debenhams – closed in 2021
57% of people reacted sadly to the news the brand collapsed, showing we really did care about one of the biggest names on our high streets closing. In December, it was announced that all Debenhams stores were set to close after the failure of last-ditch efforts to rescue the failing store chain, after ending up in administration for the second time in a year. The retailer’s website crashed for days as shoppers attempted to grab bargains, while the physical stores reopened for a short period of time to clear stock.
Debenhams was a key part of the British high street, being one of the UK’s largest department store retailers after the earlier collapse of BHS. Debenhams sold a range of goods from clothing to household items and furniture. Its Blue Cross Sale and Debenhams Beauty Club was a fan favourite amongst high street shoppers.
Sadly, Debenhams, who had been struggling for many years, suffered from the COVID-19 lockdowns and their main concession operator, Arcadia, entering administration. The news of the disappearance of brands such as Dorothy Perkins, Burton and Topshop led to JD Sports pulling out of rescue talks, ultimately leading to the liquidation of the department chain.
However, Boohoo snapped up their online operations to bring Debenhams back online, selling a range of their usual concessions and beauty products that customers loved, and reintroducing the Beauty Club. Debenhams has also started rehiring to open a flagship Debenhams store in an attempt to bring Debenhams back to the British high street, so it’s good news for shoppers!
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.
BHS – closed in 2016
With 51% of people reacting angrily 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, 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. 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.
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.
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!
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 November 2016 to November 2021.