Do We Need Shops And Stores On The High Street Out Of Town Retail Parks?
Many people like the idea of having shops on the high street. But does anyone really care? Increasing numbers of people are guilty of shopping online usually to save money and sometimes for convenience. So as this continues to increasingly happen more and more retailers are going to suffer. So can we really afford to shop online? Are we really prepared to pay the price of shopping online?
The consequence of everyone shopping online is that fewer people are making purchases in their local town or city so the local retail shops and stores are seeing less and less footfall and as a result less business. This gradual decline is making it increasingly difficult for the retailers to operate profitably and as a result of this more and more of them are closing.
As more and more stores close in town centres the effect is that even fewer people want to shop there because there is less and less choice. So the cycle is a self-perpetuating decline. As this continues increasing numbers of people will see shopping online as the only alternative.
Recently in the UK a large established electrical retailer, Comet has just gone into administration because it could no longer trade profitably. When this happened some retail ‘experts` were featured on the news saying that Comet failed to adapt to the internet. I am not sure how these people think they know what they are talking about. How do they acquire this title of expert? Have they ever tried to run a company with an annual turnover of £2 billion? I suspect not? They are presumably self-appointed. So how can they be experts? It seems obvious to me that you can’t operate a large company with 240 large stores across the UK and sell at the same price as Amazon with no stores. This problem is happening in every town and city around the world.
In the short-term everyone has won. Many have bought online and saved money. But often the same people have gone in to the local shop and looked at the product and had a sales person possibly demonstrate the product. Then they have probably said something like ‘I will come back to you I need to speak to my wife’ or some other lame excuse – which when translated means I have leached what information I need from you and now I am going home to purchase the product online because it is cheaper. Would this person have made the same purchasing decision if they had not been able to see the product and have it demonstrated? As this continues to happen more and more retail stores will close and there will be less and less choice in local towns until eventually there is no choice because they have all gone. What happens next time the same person that I used as an example wants to make a purchase and they want to see the product and have demonstration? There is nowhere local to go to?
The knock on effect of people not being able to see better quality products in local retail shops is that they can’t see and appreciate the difference because you often can’t see quality on a web site. The effect of this is that manufacturers of the quality products don’t sell enough to make it worthwhile or profitable and as a result they stop making as many quality products. So everyone pays the price again. When people can’t touch and feel a product it becomes more of a commodity that fulfills a purpose. At this point it all becomes about price.
Another reason that people don’t shop in local town and city centres is because they are often difficult to get to and to get around with road systems that are designed to put people off traveling in their car. For some reason the local council idealist ‘thinks’ that everyone wants to get on a bus. Car parking costs are ridiculously expensive and the car parks are often situated in areas that may be quite a way from the shops you want to visit. On top of this there are parking restrictions, double yellow lines, traffic wardens and snooper vehicles with cameras in them are poised and ready pounce as soon as you dare to make a purchase that needs to be picked up in a car. By comparison there are out-of-town retail parks with ‘free’ car parking convenient to the shops that people want to visit. These barriers to people mean that people are less inclined to want to shop due to the hassle and extra cost.
As the numbers of people visiting the high street have reduced the exorbitant business rates have remained at the same unrealistic levels. It is hardly surprising that businesses have and are struggling.
The recent rise of the charity shop retailer is yet another pressure on retailers. At one time charity shops used to sell used goods that had been donated to them but now some of them are selling brand new goods in nicely fitted out stores. Whilst I am all for helping a good cause it does seem unfair that a charity shop that does not have to pay the exorbitant business rates that other retailers have to pay especially when they are competing with them directly.
Furthermore as the high street is increasing populated with charity shops, pound shops, and pawn brokers this makes the British high street less attractive to retailers and more discerning customers. So the decline is further exacerbated.
On top of all of this the super markets are increasing the size of their stores seemingly uncurtailed and with no consideration of the effect on the high street. Selling tins of beans is not the same as selling quality products that need to be seen and demonstrated to be appreciated. This is further commoditisation of products. Also the supermarket has the added advantage of people religiously going there every week so it becomes very convenient to just buy whatever they offer.
So what is the solution to stop the ongoing demise of the high street? It is probably going to need several solutions which would include stopping the ongoing increase in the size of super markets. Business rates for all retailers need to be drastically reduced and possibly in some cases removed. Make town and city centres more accessible with no car parking fees – the car is not the enemy. Unfortunately most action is only taken once the rot has well and truly set in. The other solution would be to tax online sales to balance the price difference and prevent the continuing cancerous decline on the High Street. Another possible solution would be to allow manufactures to set recommended retail prices again and allow them to maintain them. None of these solutions will be popular but without them the decline will continue. So who really does care about the High Street. No one wants to pay the price either way. The likely outcome in such circumstances is that virtually nothing will be done other than some gimmicky tinkering and the decline will continue unabated and we will all lose.