The High Street might be broken, but...

By Hayden Sutherland

February 28, 2013 | 4 min read

It seems that almost every day another story of retail doom and gloom on the High Street gets published. The way some articles are written you would think that e-commerce companies such as Amazon were driving up to traditional retailers and taking the money out of the tills in some sort of smash-and-grab operation.


The very thought of this is daft. Not because (as far as I am aware) eTailers employ evil gangsters to carry out raids on local corner shops, but because the parking down my local high street is so shaped, siphoned and strangled... The very notion of getting a car parked directly outside any retailer is laughable.

However, let’s just get one thing clear... The Internet may well have contributed to the decline of revenues in physical stores, but the High Street was broken before e-commerce got into its stride.

For several decades now, out-of-town shopping centres have been gradually pulling consumers away with the lure of free parking and clean & spacious areas to: meet, shop and generally have a positive experience. Meanwhile the one-way system that was once a busy shopping thoroughfare has seemingly been doing all it can to push shoppers and even the shops away. Expensive parking charges, high business rates and preposterous traffic planning & enforcement regulations have all played their parts in a drama that now sees the yellow-lined avenue we once loved now playing the sad victim of an Internet crime... But one that accuses the Internet of being the perpetrator.

I’ve also got a personal beef with some of the inflated prices that so-called convenience stores charge, especially in major cities. It seems that having an entrance on an A-road gives the owners ‘carte-blance’ to charge what they like; that’s the only real daylight robbery going on these days. Perhaps this is why supermarket ‘Metro’ stores are currently providing so much growth in the grocery sector…

Mary Portas might well have been right in her now almost forgotten report on the revival of the failing High Street, only published at the end of 2011. One of the recommendations she made was “Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not”… The unfortunate fact however is that this is what the Internet provides. Most retailers with only a reasonable budget can now set-up an online store and bypass the hassle of having to fight for expensive and often pointless space in a decaying building.

I do however disagree with the initial words in Mary’s report that “The only hope our high streets have of surviving in the future is to recognise what’s happened and deliver something new”. My opinion is not that they need to go forward and provide something new, but take a look at where they have come from … the world of convenience, accessibility and a decent shopping service for all.

One final thought to leave you with… Before the High Street goes blaming the Internet for its demise, perhaps it should look at how it can work with new technologies and techniques to provide a truly multi-channel retail experience? E-commerce is not the interloper, the enemy or the issue here.. shopping has change and so has the High Street with it. But is another change needed to secure its future?


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