10-May-2012 10:40

Can The High Street Survive?

Recent High Street deaths & significant store closures include Woolworths, T.J. Hughes, Oddbins, Habitat, Zavvi, Thorntons, Game, Jane Norman, Moben Kitchens, Carpetright, Argos in deep poo & a host of independent stores lost… and now we hear that Clinton Cards are forced into administration…

Can the High Street survive?

In its current form I think not.

High rents, exorbitant rates, contracts skewed in favour of landlords, poor, limited (and increasingly expensive) local parking have eroded the ability of larger firms and especially niche and 'different' boutique style shops to survive on the High Street - unlike much of Europe.

So, if you want to frequent a Curry’s, a Comet, Tesco, an M&S store, Next, a Boots, TK Maxx etc fine & dandy - but to source something a little bit different, something unique, you have to look online.

And once punters get 'used' to the ease & availability of the online experience – twinned with the competitive pricing online, they slowly get weaned away from visiting M&S & Boots and…


What are your views?

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Contributed by Robert Turner on 11-May-2012 15:52
''@Do we need the High Streets to survive? ''

Contributed by Norman Feiner on 11-May-2012 14:18
Yes - is the short & sweet answer

For any economy to thrive we need aS much money thrown back into the economy as poss.

Contributed by Paul Norman on 11-May-2012 14:16
An alternative, and related, question, is this.

Do we need the High Streets to survive?
Contributed by Norman Feiner on 11-May-2012 13:57
Some excellent & incisive comments - thank you all...

Contributed by Nigel Temple on 11-May-2012 13:56
Hi Norman

I agree. In its current form, the high street can't survive.
The question is - what can be done with the shop space?

From time to time, I wonder what would happen if I 'set
up shop', in a literal sense.

Would I get more clients - or would I be constantly interrupted?

All the best
Contributed by Lawrence Perry on 11-May-2012 13:55
Personally I am going shopping.....

uk. shop dot com

Contributed by John Paul on 11-May-2012 13:54
Paul, some of these re-zoning changes have been taking place for awhile, the reintroduction of employment/residential uses above shops - which was historically how many high streets were configured horizontally in anycase is a good example. It maintains a degree of life after closing hours, reduces complete commercial dependence on incoming trade (be it by car, coach or train), so can respond to local need too and re-establishes the town centre as the focal point of a community - something the out of town retail parks of previous decades nearly destroyed - the social implications of derelict, abandoned town centres is fairly well known. You are right, in the end - what exists in the town centre changes over time - the important aspect being that it is used, needed or desired.
Contributed by Paul Clark on 11-May-2012 13:53
Last time I looked, my local High Street (the one back in the UK), showed no signs of disappearing. I'll make a mental note to tap on a few walls next time I'm there to see if they still seem solid enough, but I'm pretty sure they'll be OK.

Let's not get misty-eyed about this. A High Street is a physical urban space, typically configured into large commercial units, and zoned for non-residential use. High Street premises are owned by commercial landlords, and rented to businesses. The preveailing model of the last many years has been regular rental increases to ensure the landlord captures the largest possible share of the profit potential of the tenant business.

Historically, the dominant category of business in our High Streets was general retail. We queued through traffic to park somewhere near, trudged through the rain, got ignored by rubbish staff and exploited with high prices and poor product ranges, trudged through the rain some more, and drove home with our purchases. It was a rubbish experience. Online is better.

Our high streets are not dying; they are reconfiguring, and we don't need to get maudlin about the "once great" (no - always crap, in my lifetime) stores that have gone. The new High Street is about destination; not retail. The new High Street is restaurants, coffee shops, hairdressers, clubs and pubs. Right now, some of these are suffering too, because (a) they used to feed off traffic going to the now-defunct retailers, and never developed a sufficiently exciting proposition to draw customers directly to themselves, and (b) they are paying rents set when they had to compete for space with the retailers.

After the High Street reconfiguration is complete, I predict the losers will be commercial property owners (including all our pension funds!) Commercial pressure will force rents down to a level where people can run viable and attractive businesses. In another 5 - 10 years from now, the High Street won't be empty - it will be full of service businesses, leisure 'destinations', and some small retailers offering niche and specialist products with high-service value added. I'd also predict some re-zoning, and a lot more people living in formerly all-commercial areas, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

What we're seeing now with empty stores is the consequence of transition, as landlords are unwilling to drop prices fast enough. It will last a while - for example in the City there are whole prime office buildings stood empty purely to manipulate lease costs. (Existing lessees in long leases are subject to 5-yearly upward-only revisions, benchmarked on average rental rates; those averages EXCLUDE empty properties, so it makes more sense for a large commercial landlord to leave a prime building empty and get a rent increase on all his other buildings than it does to re-let at a rate the market will bear and damage his average rental yield.)

The future of the High Street doesn't have to be worse: just different. New retail models no longer reward retailers for clustering together in city centers, so High Street property no longer deserves a premium rent. When landlords (or the Banks who acquire their properties when the landlords go bust!) realize this and respond, we'll see what's next.

Incidentally, I'm sad for the people whose livelihoods will be affected by Clinton closing, but I won't miss Clinton themselves. The ritual of buying bits of dead tree for someone else to glance at and throw away always offended me. Like every man, I suspect, I've been forced into Clinton at regular intervals by feminine-imposed social norms to have money extorted from me - one sheet of paper with a trite picture and 10 words at half the price of a novel that a talented author spent months to create? Twice the price of a quality newspaper? You're kidding me!

If recession Britain is coming to its senses and spending money on more worthwhile things - hooray!
Contributed by Norman Feiner on 11-May-2012 13:52
Fraser - Nope - you may be correct...
Contributed by Marketing Consultant Fraser Hay on 10-May-2012 22:33
ironically theres a similar trend happening online with "social shopping"

just like the offline shopping centres and shopping malls on the outside of town pulling in the store straffic and footfall away from the village, town and city centres and councils around the uk offering all sorts of incentives and rate rebates to attract shops back in to the town centre....

..many one man band websites are struggling to generate the traffic, sales and revenue and seo rankings over their competitors. Many are using "social shopping sites" and creating external ecommerce sites, mini sites and "presence" by having additional virtual "units" in these virtual shopping malls...


I suspect online too, there will be more consolidation, acquisitions, and fewer, bigger, larger online shopping destinations....just look at AMAZON, it started off just selling books.

Many people are also creating additional ebay shops as well their own sites for they're trying to find the online audience, and selling to it, whilst leveraging the multi million ££ brands of successful sites, and tapping into their coverage, distribution, traffic/eyeballs and customer/fan LOYALTY.

In social media, they say find the conversation and join it.
in general marketing terms, find the market and satisfy the demand.
In going forward online retail is all about finding high profile, high traffic, shopping destinations.

But i could be totally wrong.....
Contributed by Georgina Lester on 10-May-2012 19:44
In the current format - a big fat NO - the High Streets cannot survive and I am not surprised.

We can satisfy most shopping needs easily and effectively just by going online. We do not have to waste time, fuel and energy struggling our way through traffic jams, crowds and unhelpful staff to get what we want. It is much quicker finding a deal online too - especially when we know exactly what we want.

Online shopping is getting much better at coming up with different ways for us to get a feel for what we are buying and offering ways for us to experience the products without them being in front of us. As such the experience is much more pleasant than battling with weather and crowds to get what we want.

Retail has for too long has been about footfall and getting the right numbers on the bottom-line. It is not about providing added value, customer service or making it an event that is about creating a pleasurable experience. It is not even about satisfying our basic needs of putting healthy food on the table.

For any of the High Streets to survive they need to put customer experience first above everything else. It needs to be made an event that is about real life connections with other like-minded people who enjoy similar things to ourselves.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in which we dump the old views about what shopping is about and become very much more creative about how we interact with the audience and engage with them as people. The experience should be about expression and education too where a shop becomes a portal to a new world of learning and development.

I think that for many retail outlets these ways would be alien to them and so very difficult to embrace.

Ultimately I think that we have gone way beyond the point at which the population can make a difference by making a concerted effort to support local trade through handing over their money every week to buy local products. It is going to require something much more powerful than that to ensure that town centres do not disintegrate into windswept ghost towns.
Contributed by Phillip Khan-Panni - Wordsmith on 10-May-2012 17:36
Vote with your feet.

I support the little local shops with my wallet. The Times keeps offering my weekly subscriptions at much less than I pay my local newsagent (Ruby), but I always decline because I'd rather keep Ruby in business.

We, the public, can do more. A creative populist movement to revive the High Street must be in everyone's interest. Why wait until there's no High Street to speak of? Of all sad words of tongue and pen the saddest are these, "It might have been."
Contributed by George Wallace on 10-May-2012 17:06

Where we live Tesco express and Sainsbury Local has taken over everywhere.,

All the small shops forced out by price cutting.

Our high street now has Starbucks, Costa, Sainsbury local and a new TK Max just opened today.

The smaller shops have had to move the council has put up the rates so much.
Contributed by Thomas Power on 10-May-2012 16:49

Coffee shops, estate agents and restaurants - Yes.

The rest - No, all gone by 2020.
Contributed by Simon Jones "Web Wizard" on 10-May-2012 16:48

I personally love the high street, specialist stores selling specialised items with specialist knowledge.

The biggest killer for me is always parking! Why pay £2-4 to buy a few bits from the butcher when I can park for free at Tesco?

The second biggest for me is choice, high street rents are so high it's hard to find independents trading there.

Traffic used to be an issue, but now it's easier for me to drive into and through Swansea (and Watford) town centre than the outer retail parks, but parking is still the killer!
Contributed by Iain McGuigan on 10-May-2012 14:35
Hi Norman,

I agree with you that the current situation is extremely worrying. I don't know that I am prepared to ring the death bell quite yet as retailers are a hardy, creative bunch and some interesting things can come out of rock bottom which has not yet been reached.

For me it requires some common sense thinking:

Rents need to be reconfigured - they need to be dropped and the 3 month advance payments need to be dropped and replaced with more manageable alternatives.

Banks need to be more flexible in their lending - sound businesses should not be in administration because the cash does not allow the upfront payment. Everybody loses.

Better strategy for making the high streets more interesting. Councils should provide free or virtually free units for eclectic, individual stores, arts etc to attract visitors back to the high street. Make them more individual and people will come.

There is still risk to buying off the internet and however easy they make it it is still a bit of a hassel returning things and people still like to toch, feel and try on stuff before they part with their money.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel but somebody needs to supply the electric and others need to provide some spare bulbs to keep it alight!

Kind regards

Contributed by John Paul on 10-May-2012 14:34
There does seem to be a civic issue in all of this that isn't the case in parts of Europe and elsewhere, where there is a genuine engagement and like for social interaction, real experience and the simple pleasure of visiting your local town centre, which comes before saving a few pennies or pounds by buying everything online and staying in. If our towns and cities do become derelict who will people blame for that? I personally prefer a prompt walk into my town centre to see what's happening in the (local) world whilst buying what I need, rather than a sedentary lifestyle. Maybe we need to consider the lives we want above the one offered by the home computer?
Contributed by William Buist on 10-May-2012 12:55
I think they tried Norman, I've done CHristmas cards trough their online portal

Moon pig dot com spent a lot in advertising and got brand recognition (did you here the tune as you read the start of this sentence....)
Contributed by Norman Feiner on 10-May-2012 12:36
Hi Penny - yep would be great to meet up again soon.

Clinton Cards are indeed another victim of UK austerity, competition, recession, tough High Steet rentals and increasingly prohibitive postal charges...

However, Clinton Cards (to my business mind/thinking) were in a very strong position for many years.
Market leaders, wonderful branding, name synonymous with ''cards'' and birthday/event gifts etc and yet they seemingly did nothing to fight off their direct 'online' competition.

Surely they could have nipped foreseen problems in the bud by copying, improving upon & beating the competition.

Could it be that their directors, their board and their investors were simply too staid, too fuddy-duddy and too slow to embrace new (and not so new) technologies…?


Contributed by William Buist on 10-May-2012 12:36
Very good point Penny.

In Chepstow our Woolworths store became a 'factory outlet' but the contents are awful, from factories in the far east and probably manufactured in appalling conditions, we won't go near it. The shoe shops have gone, the health food shops - mostly gone. The charity shops are here in force as are coffee shops, from Coffee #1 on its own a year ago and thriving we have that plus a Costa and a costa sub franchise in another store. All of them, looking at footfall are now struggling.

We've a specialist Music shop that does quite well, mostly because she's created a practice space for young musicians to practice that's well sound proofed and in use most of the time.

Tesco's arrived and saw off most of the food shops, and so it goes on.....

If we focus on saving money at the expense of everything else then we just don't end up richer.
Contributed by Penny PowerBlackStar on 10-May-2012 12:26
You are right to highlight this Norman, And also lovely to say hi to you. Would be lovely to see you again soon.

It is. Terrible shame Norman, I felt said this morning as I walked through Farnham for my train and was the empty shops, and now the news of Clinton Cards, lovely ladies I know that work in that store.

We all chose the online world, embrace with ease the One Click of Amazon, we love the cost savings, yet we don't vote with our feet and buy locally, I can only hope that more of our UK businesses adapt to this Digital World, clintons is a casualty due to many factors but I am sure Moon-pig has not helped, nor the cost of post!

Very sad, let's hope we don't get too used to this, we have to fight back if we what our grand children to enjoy the Communities of Town Centres.

Penny cx
Contributed by Robert Turner on 10-May-2012 12:10
Now you mention it...

I'm trying to think what shops i actually physically go into these days; because almost everything i need to buy i get from specific online stores - i.e. Amazon, Aria etc. (although perhaps as someone involved in online marketing for 8+ years this should be no surprise lol)

High Street = Supermarkets for groceries perhaps (although again, the bulk ordered online), coffee (and muffins!!), lunches... Restaurants... Pubs... Maybe clothes shopping when something is needed last minute... Aside from that, not sure what i personally need the High Street for these days...

This blog actually reminded me of a tech article last year - can't find the original one (think it was Mashable...) but this BBC article covers it quite nicely; the concept of 'virtual' shopping using telephones. With the ever increasing determination of people to surgically attach themselves to 'smart' devices... This could well be the future of the high street right here: "Shopping by phone at South Korea's virtual grocery" ( www. bbc. co. uk/news/business-15341910 )

What do you think?
Contributed by Norman Feiner on 10-May-2012 11:40
Btw- staff training has enormous bearing too...

On a personal note - just this week I entered a Mamas & Papas store to buy a new-baby gift for a freshly-baked niece & the girl who answered my questions (after ignoring me at the till for about 7 mins doing basic stuff!) was so disinterested and brain-dead that I thought I'd wandered into a filming set of Return of The Zombies...

Then when I looked for a gift, at least half of the products were unpriced.

I did actually buy a prezzie, but it was generally a nasty & unfriendly experience..

...Oh & for the record - I spent a not-insignificant sum but the girl treated me like I'd stepped in poo and refused to wrap the gift as they'd ''run outa gift-wrapping paper daaaaaarling'' !
Contributed by Paul Norman on 10-May-2012 11:40
At the moment, no. Not unless there is a major rethink. Hostile planning, hostile rates regime, lack of parking, lack of public transport - all these things conspire against it.

The competition from online is only part of it. More significant is out of town stores, where parking is likely to be free, and you can get there is massively less time.

The High Street as a concept just does not work today. To 'go to town' takes too long, and is not convenient.
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