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“Modern computing has revolutionised almost everything around us with untold benefits in almost every sector. We have new ways to communicate, we can conduct worldwide business easier, we have new forms of entertainment via video games, safer travel, new methods of teaching and untold others. Yet, it is like an addictive drug, for that's what it is to humanity, we can no longer do without it, we rely on it in virtually every part of our life. However when it came to shopping it did not behave as expected. We let society determine it's success and it passed with flying colours, sales are high, products are cheaper and the consumer is happy (whether they openly admit it or not). Society didn't understand what it was doing, it didn't see the side effects until it was too late. This technological experiment came untested, untried, unapproved and it attacked the beating heart of our towns. Ironically we attacked our high streets without even leaving the house, we didn't even have the guts to look them in they eye as we did it. 

Our shopping habits have changed, browsing around the internet looking for something to catch your eye and buy isn't the most natural task. We are specific. HMV failed not just because it couldn't compete with online but it no longer knew what it was, a music outlet, a DVD store, electrical retailer, mobile phone seller, bookstore, fashion outlet or coffee shop. It sold everything and nothing and when faced with too much choice, it's been shown we often buy nothing. Independent shops thrive because they do one thing, they do it well and they do it with passion. Why does Totnes love independent coffee shops? Cause every time someone hands over one of those coffees they believe it is the best coffee they can give you. When someone gives you a coffee from Costa, it's just that, a coffee and nothing more.”

By mikelister66 Posted: January 24, 2013


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  • mikelister66  |  January 24 2013, 9:34PM

    Diversity is positive, it is good for consumers and it just makes the world more interesting but so to is knowing your identity. I am suggesting a diversity of shops, not diversity inside shops, a subtle but key difference. I want to be able to go into a bookstore and have a conversation about the author and their other titles. Online I have access to a range of feedback and quick links to others I might like, on the high street the staff sometimes don't even know what items they sell or where to find them. One administration of the recent failings that stands out is that of Comet. The chain abandoned the high street for out of town retail some years ago and it shows that retail parks are not a safe haven. Currys, were never that dissimilar in its offer but either through necessity or choice partnered with PC World. Their offer seems to have streamlined into the multimedia area and become less diverse. The only evidence I offer up that this approach works is that they are still trading and their close cousin is not.  Returning to the high street there are two further stand out anomalies, if we can understand them better perhaps we can learn lessons to move forward with.  Firstly, the curious case of Argos. Argos arguably was the forerunner to Amazon, you browse through a series of pictures and descriptions and choose your purchase without seeing the product. The weakness of Argos was that it could only update its range of products a couple of times a year due to the huge printing and distribution effort. Argos also has hundreds of shops that it owns or rents at huge costs. Argos has the worst of both worlds, it does not offer consumers the chance to view products, one of the few benefits of many other high street shops. Nor does it have the cost effectiveness of operating purely from a warehouse. It flies in the face of all other evidence as to why shops are failing and Internet retailers are doing so well. Recent figures show that it is the 'Click and Collect' element that is helping them do so well, that and possibly that they got online early, back in 2002.

  • mikelister66  |  January 24 2013, 9:35PM

    The second anomaly are the range of charity and second hand shops. These shops are faced with equally formidable online competitors. eBay is one of the stand out names of the dot.com revolution, it is the Amazon of the second hand world yet it is even more streamlined. It does not even need a warehouse to store goods or machinery to pack and despatch them. These tasks are willingly done by the provider of the goods, it purely connects buyers and sellers. So how is it that small shops are able to compete with a company that is so streamlined that it never even comes into contact with the goods it is selling? Somehow it has not managed to strike a blow as fatal as Amazon. These shops are cheap but so is eBay, perhaps it not just purely price point. It is a conundrum worth some serious research. Although the experience of not knowing what you are going to find is hard to replicate. The high street we know is gone, if not dead yet, it's certainly terminal. With any failing, there are opportunities. The centre of our towns will be reincarnated just not as we know it. They will need to be more streamlined, more diverse and more flexible. Redefined. They will not be centres for shopping but centres for living, for being entertained, for working, sometimes all in one building, certainly all in one day. They will be vibrant from the early morning to the late evening as people enjoy having everything on their doorstep. People will no longer set aside a day to go shopping, they will set aside an hour after going to the gym or between finishing work and going to the cinema or before going out for a late evening meal. The town centre is no longer for the mono tasker but the multi tasker, much like the rest of our lives. Our time is precious, those shops that will be successful will have a strong identity and we will visit because we know exactly what we are going there to buy.

  • sl4bber  |  January 25 2013, 1:30AM

    Well you on line junkies - horror upon horror - you will soon have to buy your stuff without first trotting down to the local store to check it out. And when the high street supplier has gone - just see what happens to on line prices.

  • eponymice  |  January 25 2013, 1:25PM

    @ mikelister66 Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. You highlight that the recent failure of some retailers, notably HMV and Comet (and I would add Jessops) was due to maintaining business models which did not evolve quickly enough. While Comet did realise that town centres were becoming the dinosaur world of the modern retail environment, they did not adapt sufficiently to the threat of online shopping. They did have an online presence but it was not competitive with operations like Amazon and the specialist online white goods sites. You mention Argos, a retailer whose holding company Home Retail had some problems last year but it has reported a better third quarter and holiday season sales, however I still think that it will be lucky to survive without radical restructuring. There are probably still sufficient shoppers wary of internet purchasing to keep it and Currys/PC World going for a while. I too miss good bookshops more than any other bricks and mortar stores. Locally Ottakar's was joy to visit. Having said that I will admit to adapting to Kindle and online book reviews quite readily. I agree entirely with your conclusion "The high street we know is gone, if not dead yet, it's certainly terminal". As I have mentioned elsewhere, the style of town centre retail outlets will need to change to offer goods and services sufficiently different to the retail parks and online operations, the example I have frequently quoted is that of the Totnes entrepreneurs. The surplus outlets should be allowed change of use to residential and commercial occupancy. Only when the current empty and short term let shops are gone will the town centres have a chance of recovery.

  • Sinjis_Things  |  January 30 2013, 9:51PM

    I love good coffee and have consider that basically the British, generally speaking, cannot and do not make good coffee. I sometimes wonder if the British actually like coffee because if they did they would not make rubbish like Gold Blend and that disgusting milky stuff called Latte. I don't really care, when I rarely buy a cup of coffee, whether it's a chain shop, like Costa, or an independent as long as it.s good and I always have it black because they always put too much milk in it. Funnily enough the coffee shops in Cork, Eire serve better coffee than anywhere locally.


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