What’s Happening On Our High Streets?
Guest blog by Andrew Busby. Andrew Busby is a former retailer, Founder & CEO of Retail Reflections and an IBM Futurist.
Darwinism on the High Street and why talk of a retail apocalypse is fake news
Walk down virtually any High Street today and it doesn’t take too long to come across the sad sight of a once proud retail store, now shuttered and looking forlorn.
These are often iconic brands, they had a place in our lives, we enjoyed going there, spending time there. And now they’re gone; probably forever.
The headlines scream “retail apocalypse” and “death of the High Street” – we could actually be forgiven for believing what we read.
After all, according to statistics compiled by The Local Data Company, in 2017 5,855 UK High Street stores closed, with fashion and footwear outlets being the hardest hit.
Maplin Putney High Street
So, the death of the High Street is real and in future we will all be shopping online; cast as mere disciples of our online masters. Not quite.
Because that’s to miss a vital ingredient; here’s why.
It is true that with most of us now carrying smartphones wherever we go, online has become extremely adept at making the whole process of obtaining goods and services incredibly easy.
The ‘uberisation of society’ is now truly a reality; with just a few taps on our smartphone, a meal arrives or a taxi arrives or tickets to a concert turn up. Whatever we desire, the power of online brings it right to us whenever we wish.
But if you’ve ever tried getting a haircut online, you’ll know that this doesn’t hold true of everything.
The changing face of retail is, unlike the headlines, an incredibly complex process, with many different factors and influences impacting it in different ways.
However, fundamentally, what we are experiencing – albeit extremely rapidly – is an evolution, not a revolution.
Evolution, according to Charles Darwin, is the process by which species develop through a process of natural selection of the strongest.
So why is it that oft quoted external influences, such as Brexit, the weather, rising costs, rent and rates etc. in other words influences which affect all retail businesses, result in some surviving whilst others do not?
What we are witnessing is a natural culling of the weakest, to allow the strongest to survive and to allow growth through new entrants; more willing, more able to adapt to change.
“In the long history of humankind…those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”
– Charles Darwin
Online spending in the UK continues to increase, the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics showing that in May 2018, it had reached nearly 18% of total sales, up from just over 16% in the same period a year ago.
However, it would be a fallacy to conclude that this spells the end for the High Street.
For example, in research co-sponsored by IBM and NRF (National Retail Federation) in…