The high street is dying…thank god!

The world isn’t what it used to be. But here’s the thing – it never is!

Things are changing quicker than ever, and one of the places this is most obvious is the high street. If you take a walk through your town centre, you’ll likely see more ‘to let’ signs than open shops. Even some of the big supermarkets are having to close down.

The high street as we know it, is dying. But is change necessarily a bad thing?

I mentioned the annual Marks & Spencer report in a recent article.

On page 8 (PDF page 10) of the same report, they mention accelerating their store closure programme and downsizing the larger stores that remain. This is just one example but I’m confident I could keep going with many large chain shopping outlets and find similar information.


Consumer Society

It’s an interesting turn of events. In a post industrial world where we form our identities by what we consume, rather than where we work, the high street became a key battlefield for business in a pre-internet era. Big businesses came to town and drove out smaller, locally owned businesses who were unable to keep up, or who couldn’t adapt in the face of strong competition.

The explosion of the internet has given budding entrepreneurs new opportunities. They’re no longer competing for physical space on the street, just space in your Facebook news feed or Google search results. Not to mention that we can shop online 24 hours a day.

Level Playing Field

Obviously an adequate sized marketing budget is still needed. But with some creative thinking, competing against the ‘big guns’ is now a very real possibility. How many times do you find yourself buying from a shop that you hadn’t heard of 6 months ago?

I use the timeframe of 6 months because that’s how long it usually takes for a brand to see results from their marketing efforts, as demonstrated in this case study by Vertical Leap.

To further level the playing field, shopping online has removed the feelings experienced when visiting a high end shop. Buying clothes in Harrods, for example, creates a very different feeling than if you were buying them in Primark.

eCommerce has not only levelled the playing field for the business owner, but for the consumer too

It works both ways

It’s important to remember that those feelings will not be the same for everyone. Some may visit high end stores because it makes them feel good about themselves. Whereas others may be put off because they feel like they don’t belong there.

So eCommerce has not only levelled the playing field for the business owner, but for the consumer too. We are still constrained by our level of income as to where we can shop, but at least you can do it in your pyjamas (if you want to) without the fear of being judged!


What Happens Next?

So what will become of the high Street when shops have disappeared? Well, until someone invents a reliable crystal ball, it’s impossible to say with any great certainty. But I’ll share my view of where I think it’s headed.

Coffee

Cafes aren’t new to the high street, but their presence seems to be growing. I like that I’m seeing independent cafe’s not only appearing, but staying, even when surrounded by the larger chains.

Just yesterday (a busy Saturday lunchtime) I was on my local high street. There were three cafes within 100 feet of each other, two chains and one independent. It was great to see the independent cafe (which was the larger of the three) full of people and the other two not so busy.

has history taught us to be sympathetic towards ‘the little guy’?

I wonder what it is about cafes that are making us more loyal to those closer to home that was different to the decisions we made about where we shopped. Or has history taught us to be sympathetic towards ‘the little guy’?

Bars

The identity of a bar/pub itself is changing. Nightclubs are starting to disappear and there’s fewer places that play loud music. Which tells me that this kind of activity is now much more of a social experience, rather than to simply get wasted.

I’d like to see this trend of venues that encourage social interaction continue on the high street. Even though I was on my own in that independent cafe, I enjoy people watching, so I notice things. As I looked around, it was great to see people conversing. There weren’t even many people on their phones ignoring the person opposite.

Photo by Jamie Fenn on Unsplash

My Vision

As someone who likes to create art with my digital and film photography, it would be great to see more collaborative spaces encouraging creativity. Perhaps I have my head in the clouds with this vision of a more socially engaging and collaborative society.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but surely I’m not the only one?