Mary Portas says that high streets are outdated and they should be run as businesses in their own right with more encouragement for markets. Is this the beginning of a Del Boy led retail revolution?
When we buy things we engage in a sub-conscious trade-off analysis. There are often several things to take into consideration: financial cost; convenience; quality; time; and emotional costs too.
I’d argue we make the same sort of decisions when we decide where to shop.
It’s often cheaper to buy online these days and the internet will continue to change the face of shopping as the Network Era matures. How many of us browse on the high street and then buy online? Of course, if you are passing a shop it may be more convenient to pop in, so Mary’s ideas about retail flourishing where the foot fall is high clearly make sense, after work, or to and from a gym for example. However, I like having things delivered to my door rather than having to carry them, or finding out that what I want is out of stock, or getting stuck in yet another long queue when I want to pay.
Out of town shopping has many benefits, compared to struggling to get into town, not least of which are accessibility and parking. The retail industry has been tempting us away from the high street for decades now and has been very successful at it.
So, unless I am there for some other reason, what extra value am I getting from the high street that would make me want to pay more than I do online, or make me want to struggle into town?
I personally hate how similar British high streets have become, with the same big brands the only ones able to pay the high rents and associated costs. I’d love them to be more differentiated and interesting but I don’t see much opportunity for small, local and new shops to appear. We have allowed big brands to concentrate and dehumanise the retail experience in recent years and they are in control of what the high street becomes. For much of what we buy the purchasing power of major retailers, with manufacturers, and their influence over the supply chain as a whole, is so strong that there isn’t a lot of room for new entrants to make much of a splash.
So, whilst it may be cheaper to buy online, and it is often more convenient to buy out of town, with less hassle getting there, maybe more markets and other high foot flow activities, managed by these high street “businesses”, may be able to tip the trade-off decision to shop there back just a little in the other direction.
Hardly a new idea though, Del Boy has been doing this for years.