In contrary to recent headlines, a new study from Saatchi & Saatchi suggests that ‘Generation Y’ is in fact shopping on the high street, with 78% visiting local brick-and-mortar stores in the week before interviews were carried out.

The agency met with 1508 16–29 year olds, asking them about their high street and the role they want it to play in their lives. 

Saatchi’s reasoning for this research is sound. It highlights that 1 in 6 shops in the UK are currently boarded up, with footfall down by 10% in the last three years. A quarter of the UK’s high streets are failing, with another 11% in decline. 

Yet against this near universal picture of doom and gloom, the agency has revealed unexpected optimism. 

Though pride is low, money is still passing hands. Young people have nothing more than a transactional relationship with the high street – 63% claim they visit just to ‘buy’, and 47% say they currently have no emotional connection to their local high street whatsoever.

Mary Portas released a damning report on the health of the high street in December, mirroring this while making suggestions as to what can be done to preserve the high street’s place within the British economy. 

Though it also referenced a lack of a community atmosphere, her findings contained almost no references to e-commerce, with no recommendations for improving business by integrating social media or digital activity.

Saatchi’s research again shows that this lack of online consideration is short-sighted since 56% of millenials it spoke to said they would create social spaces – places to learn, play, gossip, eat, drink, dance and share – if they were given a shop on the high street for a year.

Not only this, but 45% have considered opening a small business, with 42% claiming that they would start it on their local high street (versus 31% online and 10% in shopping malls). That’s a huge amount of potential.

Saatchi has roped in the likes of Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbot to voice their opinion on its ongoing research, so it’s bound to get some coverage, but I’m still left wondering about the best way to engage Generation Y on this topic. And more importantly, provide them with the support they need to combine natural digital skills with best pratice from traditional e-commerce and offline sales.