By Lucy Hooker

Business reporter, BBC News

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Even once the lockdown is over, even when shops are open again, Ellie Philpott won’t be rushing back to the High Street.

“I haven’t bought clothes in a shop for two, maybe three years,” says the 27-year-old customer service advisor.

She lists her objections: “I can’t get what I need. Shops don’t cater to people of my stature.

“I detest queuing. There are people everywhere. Changing rooms are cramped and often the lighting is really unflattering.”

Like a lot of her generation, she does almost all of her shopping online, even when there isn’t a pandemic. So the news that another raft of big fashion brands is set to disappear from the High Street doesn’t worry her.

Online flares

It’s not a problem for Natalie Watt, either.

“If Topshop isn’t there any more it probably won’t bother me,” says the 22-year-old student. “It’s 100% easier online.”

Shopping isn’t something she’d do socially any more, though she used to as a teenager. Like Ellie she doesn’t find it particularly enjoyable.

Natalie tries to avoid the “fast-fashion” habit of buying too many clothes generally. But, if she really wants something specific, like a pair of flares, she knows she’ll find them more easily online than she would in the shops, trying them on in the comfort of home and sending back what she doesn’t want.

And she does sometimes order from Asos which is buying the Topshop, Miss Selfridge and Hiit brands, (but not the shops themselves), because it does offer so many different brands in one place.

During lockdowns she has been missing browsing the charity shops, her first choice for new clothes, but EBay and Depop (a second hand online marketplace aimed at younger social media-savvy customers) have helped to take their place.

Evil demon

Shoppers are voting with their feet, argues Ellie Philpott, and it’s time to face up to reality. Instead of treating online shopping as if its an evil demon that’s killing the High Street, we should accept it is a “brilliant tool” and put our town centres to better use.

“I really strongly believe the High Street is a wasted space,” she says. She’d rather see more social and community spaces like the arts space and ping pong tables at her local shopping centre in Northampton.

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But that’s not the view of Kate George from Yorkshire.

“I remember when I was 15 going to London with a friend and we went to Topshop on Oxford Street and it was such an experience,” she says.

“I think it’s a big shame not having physical stores, especially flagship ones like in Manchester or London. They have a lot of character to them. If you go on the right day they’ll have a DJ playing live and little salons in store that’s an experience you’re not going to get anymore”

Friendly staff

Amy, a 21-year-old intern at insurance start-up Wecovr echoes that.

“I used to love shopping at Topshop with my mum, whenever we visited central London,” she says.

She remembers “the friendly staff, happy to share tips on trends and advice on what goes well with what”.

“We’ll miss it, but I guess things have to move online.”

image copyrightKate George

image captionBoth Kate and her fiancé Matt find it upsetting to see so many shop fronts standing empty

Before the pandemic Kate belonged to the crowds of office workers browsing the rails in city centre shops during her lunch hour.

While Kate can see the advantages of online shopping now – especially while taking returns to the post office has begun to feel like an exciting way to break up the monotony of lockdown – it doesn’t excite her the way a trip to the shops used to.

Gaping holes

Online she can feel overwhelmed by the choice on offer. Sometimes she’ll put 20 things into her online basket only to abandon the whole thing.

Even her fiancé Matt, who tends to find the crowds and the loud music in physical shops a bit of an assault on his senses, agrees it’s frustrating not to see things “in the flesh” before you buy. And for both of them, the rising number of empty shop fronts is an upsetting sight, reminding them of people who have lost their jobs, and leaving “gaping holes”.

“It’s a massive shame,” says Kate, particularly when rummaging round the shops, stopping for a cake and catch up with friends, or stumbling on a nice market you didn’t know about, can be so much fun.

“I get a lot of joy from that,” she says.

“Once the pandemic is over I hope those experiences are still there.”

“I hope the High Street doesn’t just disappear completely, because I think we are naturally social creatures. We like to be face to face with other people,” she says.

“Being able to go shopping with friends and get their advice on whether something suits you or not – losing that would be really sad.”