We have seen our local high streets change, and now we are watching even the big brands struggle to maintain their spots (Woolworths, Peacocks etc). Currently we have a trend for pop up shops, but what is the long term furture for our high streets?
Online spending has increased, and certainly online shopping works beautifully for many items/brands. If you know what you're looking for, browsing a site to find it, is easier and sometimes cheaper than traisping round the high street for it.
But what does the high street offer that online shopping simply cannot? Sometimes we need an item in the moment, and even next day delivery sometimes does not suffice. But more importantly than the speed, I think high street shopping offers a browsing experience that is not matched by online shopping. We can shop with all of our senses, touching and discovering items we didn't even know we wanted or needed! We can shop socially, enjoying company and getting a second opinion on what we find.
We can have instant help from assistants, we can squeeze/rub/prod our potential purchases, as well as trying on for fit. We can discover brands we have never heard of, items we didn't know existed, and experiement with styles we didn't think we could carry off.
So....can we save our high streets?
I really can envision a return of the independent trader on our high streets. Big brands will continue to do well online, as well as in large shopping centres and central high streets. This may well allow for independent traders to reclaim a successful high street.
The high rents currently make it near impossible for many indie shops to succeed, however I also do think that many struggling indie shops aren't actually good enough. Many I visit look shoddy, and still offer poor customer service. We need to up the standards, to make our high streets worth visiting again.
Here is my out of the box idea.....do tell me what you think.
The government could offer rent subsidies for small businesses to open high street shops. Part of the deal would be that the small business would hire at least one person as staff. The shop would be contributing to the local economy, be helping reduce our unemployment rates, and help get more people spending locally. The subsidy money would come from the potential savings on benefits from the business owner and staff, and if the business proved successful, the subsidy would slowly be reduced, and then they would start paying business rates etc.
If our high streets got better, I think more people would start shopping there. Even in my local, relatively successful high street, there are empty shops that need filling.
Do we need to start thinking of alternative options to get our retail businesses up and running again?
ETA - My local council has currently suspended business rates I believe, to give local businesses a helping hand, are any other councils doing anything similar?