THE DEATH OF THE HIGH STREET
“The Christmas binge fest is one tradition that is most likely to endure the test of time, our shopping habits, however, appear to be undergoing a seismic shift.”
Hello and good morning to you.
So have you missed me? Of course you have… I’m sorry about the one week absence but I’ve been busy Christmas shopping, you know what it’s like, walking up and down the high street, jostling fellow Christmas shoppers on my hunt for last minute presents. And I’m not ashamed to say that my feet are killing me, as are my arms from all the bags, my patience from all the queueing and my very last nerve from the lack of parking and….
Okay, I confess, my absence wasn’t anything to do with Christmas shopping but more with the fact that I had an American friend visit for just over a week and I was busy giving her (and myself) the grand tour of our lovely nation’s capital.
That’s right, anybody who knows me knows that I would rather stick ‘pins in my eyes’ than tackle the Christmas hoards as they scavenge for the best gift at the best price. For me, Christmas shopping is tantamount to crossing a river by stepping on the heads of sleeping crocodiles; you never know when one of them (the general public) is going to react to the fact that you just stole their parking space or picked up the last gift that they needed to complete their Christmas morning set or maybe swiped the last tin of ‘seasonal’ chocolates. What’s with that anyway? Are we only willing to pig out on chocolates on Christmas and Boxing Day? I’m more than happy to indulge in this particular gluttonous behaviour any time of the year.
Anyway, I digress… The Christmas binge fest is one tradition that is most likely to endure the test of time, our shopping habits, however, appear to be undergoing a seismic shift.
Markets can still be seen on week days in towns across the country and marketplaces are the origins of today’s much loved shopping mall; a collection of some of the best stores, featuring eateries, juice bars, cinemas and much more, all under one keep-you-dry-and-cool/warm roof.
The first shopping mall to open was the Country Club Plaza, founded by the J.C. Nichols Company, near Kansas City (MO), USA in 1922. The first enclosed mall called Southdale opened in Edina, Minnesota (near Minneapolis) in 1956. These were followed in the 80s by giant megamalls. One of the first of its kind was the West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada; it opened in in 1981 with more than 800 stores, a hotel, an amusement park, a miniature-golf course, a church, a water park for sunbathing and surfing, a zoo and a 438 foot lake!
Of course, leave it to the Americans to build bigger and (some would say) quite literally better (or in this case the Canadians with American input). Shopping malls became very popular very quickly not just because they contained all of the amenities under one roof but because they made the whole shopping experience easier and therefore more enjoyable. Unlike most UK high streets that demand you park at one end of town and then trek to the other to actually get to the shops, a typical shopping mall will feature oodles of parking space enabling shoppers to conveniently access all of their favourite stores both before and after they become weighed down with shopping bags. For many women this meant goodbye to unnecessarily achy feet as well as no more battling with the elements, frizzy hair and dribbling mascara.
The arrival of the supermarket, the hyper market and shopping malls in the UK revolutionised our whole shopping experience. We simply can’t get enough of this practical way of spending our hard earned cash. This has led to many taking to their cars, often travelling many miles to other counties to pay homage (and cash) to these giant wonderlands rather than taking to their feet and hitting the high street. Consequently, high street retailers are struggling in the face of plummeting revenues and rising business rates imposed by cash-starved local authorities. Many high street stores have been forced to close their doors permanently. In fact, one in every seven shops on UK high streets was closed at the beginning of 2012. And I’m not just talking about independent (often family run) businesses but major high street chains, such HABITAT, PEACOCK, GAME, CLINTON CARDS, JJB SPORTS and, most recently, COMET, all of which have filed for Administration. Other brands, such as THORNTONS, HMV and CARPET RIGHT have closed a multitude of branches in their struggle for financial survival.
So can the woes of the aforementioned be attributed to the increasingly popular shopping mall? Of course not, there are many contributing factors, least of all this yo yo, we’re-in-it, we aren’t in-it recession as well as the mushrooming of super and hyper stores that for years have been ever more capitalising on the captive audience of the grocery shopping public. Well, of course, it makes sense that when you pop in for a loaf of bread you might just decide to take home the latest plasma screen, interest free, and get ‘loyalty points’ in the process!
Superstores have breath-taking buying power and in their quest to become the best, you can be sure that a little of that will be passed onto you so why break up a shopping expedition into many legs when you can just do it all under one roof, at decent price whilst whilst shopping for essential groceries?
Yet it isn’t just the superstore that killed the high street shop star, oh no, there’s one more villain that trounces even the largest hyper markets, the biggest of shopping malls and that is the one and the only largest super mall on earth; the internet.
According to IMRG (the Interactive Media Retail Group), the estimated value of the online retail market in 2012 was a cool £77 billion, of which 20% is transacted through mobile devices. It’s estimated that £4.6 billion is spent during peak Christmas weeks (3rd & 10th December).
Yes, on the eve of 2013, shoppers have never had it better. Now, with smartphone apps, price comparison and review websites, shoppers have the ability to visit tens of stores and compare hundreds of prices in minutes and all from the privacy of their home and the comfort of their own underwear (if you’re into that kind of thing). Groceries, electronics, clothing, furniture, building, DIY Materials, fast food, anything you can think of is generally just one click or tap away. In minutes, many can accomplish much more at the best price than our mothers and fathers could in hours, with less fatigue, frustration and even rage.
I need insurance, I don’t have time to visit my broker anymore, I’ll just log onto a few price comparison websites and, in a few clicks, I’ll have the best coverage at the best price.
I need that obscure gift for granddad, sod battling the traffic in town I can just search the internet from my tablet and have it delivered to me.
I haven’t got time to get into town to get my friend a birthday card, not a problem, I can either send him or her an e-card or if I don’t want to seem cheap and want to succumb to that craze of greeting card nostalgia that appears to be sweeping the nation, I’ll use my phone’s app to customise an online greeting card and I’ll have that mailed directly to my friend.
I need a new washing machine for tomorrow but I can’t get to that electrical retail store until the weekend, no problem, I’ll just go online tonight and cross reference the prices between multiple stores, grab a bargain and then, instead of lugging the thing to my car and then unloading it at the other end, I can pay a bit extra and have them deliver it to my home, plumb it in and even take the old one away.
What about grocery shopping? That’s a real pain because most of us are only able to get that done at the weekend, and 24 hour is good and everything but a lot of people are waking up to that now and are doing the same thing. No problem, I can go online or use either the app on my phone or my tablet to log into my supermarket account, select all of my favourites, and maybe a few additional items, stick them into my virtual shopping cart and have them delivered. If I’m really strapped for time I can just click on ‘repeat order’, select a delivery slot that suits me and I’m done. No dressing up for town, no battling the crowds, no hours wasted scanning the aisles and waiting in queues. A few clicks of the mouse and clicks on my keyboard and it’s all delivered to the door, of my refrigerator that is. TESCO’s slogan of ‘you shop and we drop’ encapsulates the activity perfectly.
And even that’s proving somewhat difficult. As I write this, I’m thinking of my own personal ‘chore’ that awaits me at some stage over this weekend and that is to shop for groceries yet, these days, I do it whilst lying down on the sofa with my IPAD and a cup of coffee.
What’s that? You prefer to ‘handle’ the goods personally. The shoppers just pick ‘whatever they like’; they don’t look for the quality as you would in person?
But for the hassle it saves many don’t care. Moreover, supermarkets would have you believe that their staff are trained to pick goods as if it were there own and if you don’t like it, simply send it back and if that isn’t good enough, just leave a comment from your trusty computer (or mobile device) which will have the store manager panicking about losing your custom and promptly submitting a refund plus a coupon for the trouble.
Yep, we consumers have never had it easier. Yet, I’m still hearing many (including myself) whining about not having enough time. The reality is that, thanks to the leaps and bounds of technology, we’re blessed with more personal time now that our parents and ancestors could ever dream of but we’re becoming complacent. Like spoilt children, the more we get, the more we want. The 24 hour day has not changed and with exception of those workaholics that do work in excess of 12 + hours a day and those that work multiple jobs to try and make ends meet, the rest of the nation has never had it so good. It isn’t time that escapes them but the motivation to make the most of what time they have.
However, I digress; I was talking about the humble high street store…
When faced with such mighty competition, what hope does the humble high street have anymore beyond coffee shops, pubs and restaurants?
And here’s the irony. Generally, the leaps in technology are the result of manufacturers catering to the consumer will to spend less time on tedious things and repetitive tasks and more on fun things like social and recreational activities yet many of us are still complaining about still not having enough time or those.
Yes really. Just take a quick poll among your friends, family, oh and you! Now, ask yourself, how many of these people, including you, are often citing lack of time for social activities? By social, I mean time to spend with friends and family.
Found a few?
On average, there should be at least 3 out of 10.
Believe it or not, there isn’t less time, the days have not shrunk, we all have more time, it’s just how we choose to spend it that has changed.
Again, more irony, I used to run a store until it closed a few years ago. I know that back then (and it certainly wasn’t a chore I enjoyed very much) I used to spend all of my Sunday morning working on the accounts for the store. However, the store is now closed and I still feel that I don’t have much time on a Sunday, how’s that possible? Well, it’s because I’ve chosen to invest my time elsewhere, that is writing! So instead of considering the blessing that closing the store has released some free time to enable me to get down to doing what I enjoy the most, I complain that I don’t have enough time for other activities.
And the same can be said of those who say they don’t have time to visit friends and family. You, like everybody else, have the same allocation of time, how you distribute and with whom you choose to share this is entirely up to you, as is the fate of the high street.
Yes, the fate of our high streets is in our hands and whilst we may have to bow to the practical and economical seduction of the superstore and hyper malls, we still have a choice over if and where we choose to spend our social time. Social mediums, such as Facebook and Twitter, dating and gaming websites are all a direct threat to the humble high street. Whilst we used to meet future partners, friends and families in bars, pubs, restaurants and clubs, we’re now able to do so through a whole new and much less threatening medium, and at a time that suits us! No planning, no synchronising of calendars, no worrying about what to wear just log onto any social website and it’s instant gratification.
Didn’t I say that we’ve never had it easier?
So it’s down to the socialites among us, THE RESISTANCE, if you will, those who embrace technology to enhance and not replace our social experiences by highlighting our human interactions and not attempting to mimic these with artificial emoticons. 😉
There’s already clear evidence that the face of our high street is changing, in some areas dying with the demise of the local butcher, post office, and greengrocer, to name a few. The new face of the humble high street features one final frontier and this is made up of pubs, coffee bars and restaurants. However, whether or not we choose to patronise these places, whether or not we choose to reallocate and to spend quality time with our friends and family in said places is a choice that each and every one us must make.
There’s no doubt that you high street needs you but the only question is, do you really need it anymore?
Have a socially blessed weekend. 🙂
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