One of the major impacts of the economic downturn following the financial crisis of 2008 was the number of shops that were closed on the high streets. This, coupled with statistics documenting the rise of online shopping, has led to the suggestion that online shopping is killing the high street. When discussing a topic such as this it is important to analyse all of the factors involved rather than jumping in with a knee jerk reaction.
Historically, many towns and cities grew larger and developed during the industrial period. People left the rural areas where subsistence farming had been the norm, becoming more specialized in their work and making them further removed from growing their own food and other basic industries. This coupled with a new product range in the industrial economy led to the creation of shops to cater for the emerging working population and their needs. At this time there were separate shops for shoes, clothes, accessories and many other items. Shops were not only opened in the town centres but also on the outskirts along all of the main roads.
During the early twentieth century there was the development of the department store. Suddenly clothes, shoes, furniture and other items could be bought under one roof. Similarly, in the late twentieth century came the development of the supermarket which combined all of the items from the previously separate food shops. Both department stores and Supermarkets were able to out-compete the independent shops to a large extent by having more buying power and they were able to get better terms from the wholesalers and producers. They were also able to offer a greater variety of goods.
Towns and cities also started to build Shopping Centres, based on American Malls, leading to more pressure on the other high street shops. With increased traffic in the town centres, Out of Town shopping centres and retail parks have also emerged offering easy car access and free parking.
As you can see this is all one way traffic, increasing competition and capacity to a finite level of expenditure that shoppers and the economy can afford. This has made it incredibly difficult for the high street traders to keep their shops open.
Finally, internet shopping has also really taken off in the developed countries. Undoubtedly it too has had an impact on the high street and all of the offline / traditional retailers. Although merchants such as Amazon who have no retail premises to maintain are at an advantage, other more traditional shopping chains and departments stores more than hold their own in the digital world.
Indeed the present and the future will have to involve a mixture of Online and Offline shopping. Shoppers may see the goods they like online and collect them in-store. Similarly, when your local shop is out of stock of an item you missed, you can instantly check online using a smart phone to see if it is available elsewhere.
There has never been a better time for the shopper. The sheer variety of goods available from all over the world is truly spectacular. But this is not to imply the end of the traditional high street shop as we know it. People like to see the reality, feel the material and try the clothes on to see how they fit.
However, the high street has excess capacity from the last 50 years of changes to our retail landscape as documented in the article. It should still possible for creative independents to be successful by offering the right goods, with the right customer service that will maintain the support and loyalty of their customers.