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Coffee House

The changing high street

15 January 2013

11:43 AM

15 January 2013

11:43 AM

I’ll confess to receiving the news of HMV going into administration with a heavy heart. Along with Woolworths, JJB Sports, Clinton Cards, Game, and Borders, it’s clear that most of the shops from my childhood are disappearing from the High Street.

Some of these structural changes have been caused by the economic downturn and benign changes in consumer habits, but the more enduring factor remains the ascendency of the internet. The Centre for Retail Research estimates that online sales accounted for 13.2 per cent of all retail sales last year. That’s an increase of 14 per cent on the previous year, and the highest figure for any European country. As increasing numbers of us start shopping with portable devices (such as tablets or smartphones) that figure is likely to rise even further.

Bricks and mortar retailers simply can’t compete with the likes of online giants like Amazon and iTunes. Indeed, Amazon is now exploring ways to offer same day delivery as standard, a move that will surely see off the likes of Waterstones, WH Smith, and many more.

A report by PWC and the Local Data Company shows that store closures averaged 20 per day last year. The key losers have been toy shops, clothes shops, jewellers, card shops and furniture stores. Meanwhile, convenience food stores, charity shops, pawnbrokers, betting stores, and (worryingly) payday loans companies, are all thriving.

That change is even more grim when put in context. Affluent areas are seeing a return of independent retailers for whom price competition is not an immediate concern. Instead, they offer artisan or luxury products their customers are prepared to pay a premium for. This suggests a widening social gap between more prosperous and disadvantaged areas.

The modern High Street has come to resemble an awkward relative whose eccentricities are enshrined in fond family legend, but indulged only rarely now. Over to you, Coffee Housers: what do you expect the High Street to look like in ten or twenty years? And will you miss the traditional retailers?

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