Can the high street make a comeback or will evolution deliver a new landscape?

Been out shopping in town lately?

Chances are you might not have done it much, if at all, since Christmas…don’t worry, we are still paying off our credit cards too.

It is no secret the popularity of the high street has been in rapid decline in recent years with the internet being held accountable for its demise.

We have seen, and lamented, the closure of some major retailers on the high street in the past decade from Woolworths to BHS, Comet to Blockbusters, JJB Sports to Borders.

Even stalwarts like Marks and Spencer have announced plans to close stores, with Debenhams now looking for a £200m cash injection to avoid collapse.

But the truth of the matter is many of us have been swayed by the convenience of online shopping.

We didn’t even need that much persuading in all honesty, there was no wining and dining involved, we have been wooed by the ease of it all since the concept became one so familiar to us.

Hands up if you did all of your Christmas shopping online this time around?

Why bother with the hassle of going into town when you can sit comfy on your sofa, snacks close by, Netflix playing your latest box-set, while nonchalantly clicking away on your phone ordering stuff.

If you have got your game-face on, you can even complete the whole task in one sitting. Boom.

According to the Office of National Statistics, online sales accounted for 21.7 per cent of total retail sales in November 2018, compared with just six per cent in November 2008.

Granted, the UK economy was heading into recession at that point ten years ago, but that is a whopping increase in anyone’s book.

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As well as having the internet to contend with, the recession in 2009 hit the UK hard and it had barely recovered before the double-dip recession of 2012 occurred.

As the economy struggled, retailers went out of business in their droves, from smaller independents to some of the larger chains we all knew and loved.

It was heartbreaking to see so many shops flogging their wares in closing-down sales and locking their doors for the last time.

High streets across the UK looked pitiful as it seemed every other shop was an empty shell compared to the thriving business it had been once upon a time.

It was depressing to see and this, perhaps, is also part of the reason why so many of us started to avoid our local towns and cities, instead choosing to shop online at home.

But where is the fun in that?

Are we simply to become blimps grounded on our sofas, devices glued to our hands, never getting out into the real world to browse the goods we might like to buy and engage with actual living souls?

We sincerely hope not.

While we accept that technology has changed the shape of so much of the landscape around us, both virtually and physically, our hope is for the high street to evolve with it and still be an exciting, relevant place to visit.

Now is the time for retailers to embrace the change and move with the times.

In this case, we do need to be romanced to keep the spark alive, so for a store to be stuck in its ways will no longer make it desirable.

Of course, there will always be a place for certain aspects of the high street, at least while the older generation is alive. 

There are still people who pop out for a newspaper and a new pair of slippers, you know.

But with the internet their fiercest opponent, and a new wave of potential shoppers to impress, retailers must find a way to connect and sustain their appeal.

Thankfully it is not all doom and gloom as retail trade has increased four per cent from February last year, so perhaps all is not lost.

Maybe there is life in the old dog yet, which is extremely heartening for an agency like ours whose business is roughly 40 per cent retail based.

We must also bear in mind that we, as consumers, need to keep up our end of the bargain too.

If we want the high street to survive, we need to show it some love in return.

Next time you reach for your phone or laptop to pick a new outfit or buy a gift for your other half, check yourself.

Have you got time to make the trip to town and see what’s out there in the flesh?

Surely there is a still a desire to touch and feel and hold the goods we want to buy?

While you’re there, stop for a coffee and a muffin and take a look around, maybe even smile at a stranger.

OK that sounds a bit creepy, but remember what it is like to be out in the hustle and bustle of the high street, among other humans, (reusable) shopping bags bashing against your legs.

You’ll miss it when it’s gone.

#humanconnection

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Andrew Flett