Monday, 23 May 2011

What future for the High Street?

I had a previous couple of musings about the future of town centres and shopping.  There have been a couple of articles in the press recently about what will happen to high streets.
Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail poses the question “Will the internet monster eat the High Street” He reports that TV presenter Mary Portas, self-styled ‘Queen of Shops’, might have the answers. This week David Cameron appointed her to advise on how to rejuvenate Britain’s ailing High Streets.
The Sunday Times reports that what makes a perfect high street is now on the political agenda.
Hugh Ellis, chief planner of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) says that “We’ve engineered their decline; it’s as simple as that, if you approve a tremendous amount of edge and out-of-town retail space, you don’t have to be very smart to work out that has an impact on town centres.” 
Out-of-town shopping has increased by 36% in a decade and the internet, is now the marketplace or 9.3% of all retail sales.
The opinion in the Daily Mail is that the truth is that ministers seem reluctant to acknowledge that all-powerful, unregulated, monopolistic online enterprises such as Amazon and Google are among the causes of Britain’s lagging economic growth and the creation of a retail wilderness. It goes on to say however enjoyable an experience traditional shopping may be, it is no longer necessary to visit the High Street. Why browse in a book shop if we can download the book onto our computer or Kindle? No wonder Amazon announced yesterday that it is selling more ebooks in America than print books for the first time.

On the subject of books, what will struggling independent booksellers make of J Sainsbury winning the prize for “bookseller of the year?”

 For Portas, high-street shopping is more about pleasure than bargains. “Experiential shopping is about loving being in the shop — the smell, the light, the people — rather than saying, ‘I could have got that on Amazon £4 cheaper’.”  She imagines a high street that is “more social, with meeting spaces and diversity”. Portas would like supermarkets to sponsor retail entrepreneurs
George Pye, of thinkingplace, a company that helps towns to redefine themselves, says: “Consumers today have become more sophisticated; rather than simply finding the goods they are looking for, they have become conditioned to expect more — an experience.  “For town centres to thrive, they need to rediscover their points of difference, distinctiveness and character. Answer the questions, ‘What is this place for?’ and ‘Who is this place for?’, agree your story, develop the experience around that story and you have an opportunity to compete.” 
John Thompson, honorary president of The Academy of Urbanism would like high street developers to include affordable space for entrepreneurs; just as residential developers are required to make a proportion of the homes they build affordable housing.
Portas says she does not have the answer yet, but hopes she will in the next six months. She says it has to start with the government and local councils
Alex Brummer says that the pressure from cyberspace is increasing, and unless consumers and communities take matters into their own hands by supporting local, specialist businesses, the game will be up.

One interesting bit, after reading the potential doom and gloom in the articles, is that some High Streets are thriving. It seems that Bracknell High Street is at number five in the top ten.

1 comment:

  1. As SomeOne who shops in bracknell regularly, I have to say that while we have some great independent coffee shops. It doesn't appear to be very busy in town. If we are number 5 then I fear for the highstreet intthe UK.