Retail shopping is in meltdown - the high street could be dead in a decade
PUBLISHED: 18:32 09 January 2019 | UPDATED: 18:44 09 January 2019
Do you still shop on the high street? Rachel Moore says you could soon be in the minority as our town centres face the toughest fight of their lives
Will this year be the year when our high streets pass the point of no return?
Or has it happened already? A wander through some town centres, so eerie, deserted and boarded up, it feels like venturing through a community after an apocalypse.
January is miserable enough without the news stream of sales-down reports from high street names, all blaming the “difficult consumer backdrop.”
Then stores close, big names pull out and town centres are left to decay as meccas for charity and discount stores.
Retail is in meltdown. It’s desperate for the kiss of life.
More than 40,000 jobs were lost and are at risk from its battering last year. This year looks just as grim. These are real people losing their jobs in a country once proud of the label “a nation of shopkeepers.”
Predictions are that, without radical action, the high street will shrivel and die and be a bygone by 2030.
But we get the high streets we deserve. Use it or lose it.
It’s an insult to those people losing their jobs at the coalface of customer service to feign sadness and outrage at the disappearance of household names in a community, when all our purchases arrive by courier or post in sealed plastic bags or over-packed in cardboard and are ordered from our sofas.
Every year the high street tries new ways to entice us in, and, year-on-year, we buy more online. It works with our lives convenient, often cheaper and frees up time for what we want to do – spend an average of four hours a day fiddling with our phones, if research is to be believed.
Or we drive out of town, avoiding greedy councils’ parking charges, to a retail park, where we can park outside a shop, pop in and go
Then, when we’re desperate and need to buy something quickly, we pop into the town centre, shocked by what we find, condemn it as “a dump.” Who would want to shop there? And go back to shopping online.
But we can’t have it both ways. Businesses are suffering the triple whammy of lost custom, crippling unrealistic archaic business rates and greedy councils’ parking charges, a cash cow then, but a disaster for the companies they want to do business in their towns.
They have been far too money-grabbing and short-sighted, jacking up rates but doing little or nothing to improve services in return. It’s probably too late for them to take a proactive role to protect their towns.
With House of Fraser now firmly in his grasp – closing our Norwich store in a couple of months– Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley says the only way to give the high street a fighting chance to survive is to tax all retailers that make more than 20% of their turnover online and revise rents with landlords having “to take their share of the pain.”
They are living in a fools’ paradise if they don’t. Holding out for a king’s ransom for an empty shop makes no sense when the retail landscape has changed so much.
The retail industry itself needs to look at its offer and how it can offer whatever that technology can’t.
For those special things in life we buy, high-price items, investment pieces for our homes, we will always need high street stores. It’s down to them to offer the right experience and the right price.
Gold-standard customer service is key, because that is what customers want, but is too often sadly lacking in a Britain that doesn’t work how its people want it to.
Online and physical shopping are intrinsically linked because consumers compare prices and research products or use click and collect services.
Retailers will have to change to be more in tune what local people want, shape their offer to be more targeted and recommendation based.
It going to be an interesting year. My money is on the survival of those who listen to their customers, are prepared to be brave and do different.
But they will never know unless we support those we like, make an effort and review how much and what we buy online, and help them to change to save some lives on the high street.
While we’re on the high street, I cheered out loud on my drive to work this week when radio news reported that goods manufacturers will have to make their products last longer and be easier to mend.
I’ve lost count of appliances that go kaput as soon as their warranty goes out and are sent to the microwave mountain.
I hate how manufacturers have such contempt for their customers – and the environment – that nothing is made to last. The satisfaction of getting something fixed and swerving having to replace something that still feels new is huge.
But too often it’s declared irreparable, no one will even try, so it joins the global mountain of junk and a replacement has to be ought, which is wicked for the environment.
EU environment ministers (something to thank the EU for!) are introducing a “right to repair” for lighting, televisions and large home appliances to counter the backlash and call manufacturers to account.
And the good news is that UK firms who export to Europe will have to adhere to the rules after Brexit.