Understanding High Street Performance

This report presents the findings of a multi-disciplinary team who were commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to provide an independent review of the available research on drivers and barriers which impact the economic and social performance of high streets.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This study, from 2011, sets out the basis of an analytical framework that can be used to assess high street performance and help determine the right kind of evidence to be gathered. The author states that, due to the inadequacy of existing performance related analytical frameworks to capture the wide range of factors impacting the high street, the development of a new bespoke framework is required.

This framework analyses evidence across the following categories:

  • Externalities – high streets are influenced by factors that are outside user or occupier control. These might include macro-economic factors such as the recession/loss of consumer confidence or centralised decision-making by property owners/retailers.
  • Spatial and physical factors – high street performance is affected by factors such as the changes in the physical environment; accessibility related to car access, cycle/walking friendliness; amenities in terms of streetscape, public space and private/public space;
  • Market forces and competition – the development of the high street is undoubtedly affected by the emergence/presence of competitive alternatives to the high street, through a range of channels.
  • Demographics – changing demographic trends are likely to have important implications for our high streets. There are implications related to the impact of factors such as: ageing populations; transient populations such as students/immigrants; and the socio-economic catchment/level of disposable income that influence the face of high streets;
  • Regulation and legislation – a range of regulatory and legislative policy initiatives have impacted on high streets including planning policy, licensing legislation and the introduction of financial incentives;
  • Management - the management of high streets has the potential to affect change and can contribute to the differential impact of certain factors or events. 

Additionally, four headline key performance indicators (KPIs) are proposed for consideration, under which a range of weighted measures could sit according to local circumstances. The headline indicators are applicable to all high streets and town centres and include:


The measurement of footfall should gauge the number and frequency of visitors to a high street or town centre, not just visitors to shops or particular attractions. It needs to measure seasonal variations, and variations at different times of day – is the high street used only during working hours or does it also have an active night-time and weekend economy?

Consumer and business satisfaction

To measure whether high streets are serving the social and community purposes envisaged for them, we need to measure users’ satisfaction. Do they like what they are finding and will they come back for more? These surveys can also drill down into why people are satisfied or dissatisfied, measuring views on cleanliness, accessibility, signage, facilities and more.


A successful high street can be determined by the range and variety of facilities on offer and the diversity of uses and users. The more there is to offer, the more people are likely to visit, so diversity is a driver of footfall. But it can also be a product of footfall as new activities spring up to cater to growing numbers of visitors.

Economic Activity

Economic activity is not just shopping or retail turnover but factors including the presence of other high street business activities, as well as the use of buildings for residential lettings and the existence of leisure trades such as pubs and clubs. An economic activity indicator would need to measure consumer spend; non-retail business turnover; business sectors represented (including social enterprises);and new investment and development activity.

By combining these KPIs, it should be possible for local authorities and their partners to judge whether a high street is succeeding, failing, stable or in transition, and have a better understanding of why this is the case.

The report concludes by noting that there is an important debate to be had about how such a set of indicators can be developed in a way that is both locally useful and nationally comparable. A scoresheet or traffic light approach might be a helpful way forward, as it would allow each high street to be judged according to local expressions of the headline indicators, while the headline findings could be aggregated nationally, indicating trends in footfall, diversity, satisfaction and economic activity.