It is now just over four years since the closure of the final Woolworths store, marking the end of an era for high street consumers and the beginning of many retail struggles and collapses to come. Since the year 2000, over 25,000 town centre stores have closed down and today 1 in 9 shops lie empty, abandoned to the recession and no longer able to fight the austerity among consumers and the trend towards online shopping. Within the last year some major high street names (Comet, JJB Sports, HMV, Blockbusters) have taken the hit, leaving shoppers reeling with nostalgia and grief caused by such losses.
However, it is not possible to proclaim the ‘Death of the High Street’ just yet, despite it reaching an all-time low. While some stores have collapsed and closed down, taking thousands of pounds of debt with them and putting thousands out of work, others have flourished, keeping above average sales and attracting confident investments along with the happy customers. John Lewis recorded an 11% increase in sales for November – December 2012 compared to the same weeks in 2011, and Next, Primark, Argos and Sainsbury’s also remain well out of danger. These stores continue to provide either dependably high quality products and service or competitive prices, allowing them to stave off the online competition.
High Street stores selling products which are considerably cheaper online are those which suffer the most. Entertainment goods like DVD’s, CD’s, books and electronic goods like cameras, televisions, mobile phones and laptops are nearly always cheaper on Amazon. The shrewd shoppers are using stores as a showroom, to investigate the product of interest before returning home to purchase it online. This is what has led to the loss of Comet and Jessops and is bringing down the beloved HMV, which is fighting to stay afloat through diversification and gift voucher schemes. However, the shops going under are mainly those which do not provide a particularly unique service, and many independent music stores still thrive on their loyal customers and individuality. Small and one-off local shops offering unique handmade, vintage or novelty products are still popular since they allow people to buy meaningful gifts, breaking away from the homogenizing digital world we now live in. The expense of floor space continues to create issues for small retailers and there is now a wide range of gift shops online which are still great for finding personal gifts.
In favour of the High Street, a day out shopping can be an enjoyable and social occasion, allowing friends to converse and gossip over the latest fashions and give much sought after advice on new clothes. The personal service in shops is also great for the unsure shopper seeking advice, and being able to see, feel, compare and try on clothes and shoes certainly holds an unrivaled appeal over the risk and uncertainty of online shopping. Sadly, and despite the efforts of retail therapists like Mary Portas, there are still some disadvantages of High Street shopping, including poor service from complacent employees and sloppy shop maintenance. People expect a lot nowadays from retail stores, and a single slip up could lose a customer forever.
Ultimately, if businesses fail to adapt to changing consumer needs, the trend of chain store closures may well continue. Nevertheless, while Great British classics and independent retailers hold on strong, the sense of nostalgia and loyalty may unite consumers enough to save their favourite stores. Despite all the home delivery services, we will hopefully avoid devolving into a society of isolated, antisocial consumers who no longer need to step out of the front door.
This article was written by Emily Banham on behalf of Lovely Little Gift Shop who stock a wide range of gifts from brands such as Comptoir de Famille, Green Gate, V&A and Wu & Wu.
Image Credit : New Media and Brands