2018 has been marked by news of store closures on the high street. So what is to be done?
Do we really need all shops to be able to offer the convenience of online? Is it really feasible for high streets shops to compete with the nimble offers available online?
As consumers we have a role here. To pretend that we are going to give up the convenience of online for the High Street, maybe seen as naive. Instead perhaps we need to see this issue through a different lens. Perhaps we need to put a value on the high street. The different people; sounds; colours; even the physical activity of walking around in a usually fairly safe area. This all has a value. Currently we choose not to measure that value, or at least measure it in way that commands attention. Somehow the social return on investment type valuations, don’t really make good headlines. Whereas that the latest news about shops closing and empty high streets do make powerful images.
Perhaps there is too much nostalgia about the high street. For many people born before the Internet, shopping on the high street is bound up with memories and half forgotten adventures. No wonder so many people feel sad that their high street is changing.
So what is the future of the high street? We have become used to the easy quick fix of Internet shopping. This makes any plea to go out and “buy local” at best only a partial solution. We are not going to give up the convenience and ease of shopping on the Internet. Maybe the future of the high street isn’t primarily around selling us stuff.
Maybe the future of the high street lies around its ability to offer different experiences that we can’t get elsewhere. Several Town Centres are starting to embrace this new role by bringing into the town centre, different activities, which bring people together. For instance during the school half term Stevenage in Hertfordshire had a giant darts activity and inflatable rides in the town centre. Local authorities have an important role in the town centre. For local authorities, arguably the most important role they have is in terms of leadership. Specifically what many high streets lack is a vision and the the long term drive to make that vision happen.