With the closure of Jessops and HMV this week it is more clear than ever that the times, they are a-changing. When I was at college I worked evenings and weekends at Jessops and retain a great deal of affection for the place. But I can’t honestly say I have spent more than £50 there since I left. Even with a staff discount the prices just weren’t competitive. It just wasn’t possible for them to be. Even the ‘expert advice’ which should have been the stores unique selling point is available on various forums and websites online.
So it is inevitable that things are going to change but what are they changing into? I’ve got an idea that I would like to share with you:
Picture the scene, a high street full of cafes and small independent retailers, selling unique products, possibly even made locally. These aren’t chain stores, well maybe some of the coffee shops are, they are shops with personality. You go to the high street not to shop but to meet friends, to look at the interesting shops, maybe there are art galleries, bowling alleys, independent cinemas, or anything else you can think of, taking up the spaces that used to be occupied by chain stores. In this future they are all gone.
Even on the outskirts of town there are no giant supermarkets. Instead, far out of sight, there are warehouses stacked high with all the products that you buy online. Every day a fleet of vehicles leave the warehouses to deliver food and other things to customers.
On your way home from the high street you remember that you are running out of milk, or cheese or you want to pick up a newspaper. So you stop at one of the corner shops that has sprung up since the supermarkets went exclusively online. Maybe you have a chat with the owner of the shop and catch up on some gossip. You enjoy the experience because it has added value; you aren’t buying from a faceless multinational.
Bricks and mortar stores have only two advantages: immediacy (only applies to physical products, it’s actually quicker to download an album than to go and buy it from a shop) and experience. And experience can’t just mean ‘knowledge’ because all that knowledge is freely available online. Even with these two benefits the price is, more often than not, the bottom line.
The future for big businesses is online and I think that is a good thing. I think that, as more and more shops close, the opportunity for unique independent stores will increase. Moving things online is going to happen whether we like it or not. Our high streets don’t need to be temples of consumerism, we can turn them into other things.
If we let progress take place then I think that we will come full circle and return to small and local. The high street is a faulty paradigm; if all you are doing is selling bland merchandise that can be bought cheaper online then just move online. Evolve or die. Holding back progress in order to ‘preserve’ the high street is a false economy. We need to rethink what the high street is.
So let the big companies go on-line and focus on delivery, where they can maximise their profit. Lower the cost of renting units on the high street and open it up to small, independent stores and other ventures. Make room for shops selling experience and products that can’t be found anywhere else. And don’t mourn the loss of two giant corporations which failed to evolve with the times.