Bricks, clicks and High Streets

 

       The latest figures show poor retail sales continuing to the bitter end of 2012.  Low wage rises, continuing price rises, high taxes and the squeeze on real incomes that has been going on for five years now are taking their toll.

         It’s not just the income squeeze though that results in more shop bankruptcies and closures on the High Street. More and more purchases are made using the internet. Some people shop on line because they do not have the time to go to the shops. Some shop on line because it is easier than getting to the shops. Some shop on line because they find more choice and keener prices than they do in some local shops. The internet is taking off as method for picking, buying and paying.

     The High Street business model is highly geared. Shop fitting out costs are high. Stock holding costs are high, rents are high, business rates and taxes are high. To succeed a retailer needs to attract a large number of customers on a regular basis, and needs to be sure of foot in choosing products and pricing them well.

       I have asked people about their shopping habits recently. Some say they have gone to shops only to find they did not have what they wanted. On returning home they found the items on the internet. Others have said they like the clicks and bricks approach, favouring those shops which let you choose and buy on line, and pick up from a local store almost  as soon as you wish.

           When it comes to shopping, more and more people like to make it an occasional event. They want to go to a large centre with many good brands and stores. They expect there to be cafes and restaurants for them to eat and drink as well as visiting the stores. In this world the successful large centres get better and better, and the magrinal High Streets and local shopping areas struggle to retain custom. Councils often add to the distress of local shopping areas by imposing penal car parking charges on visitors, and making it more and difficult to get access to the shopping centre by car. This drives more people to out of town retailers where you can park free of charge outside the shop of your choice.

           The recent clutch of business failures in the retail sector are a reminder that a lot needs sorting out to restore health to some High Streets. Councils need to improve access and allow more free and cheap parking for shoppers. Landlords need to be more realistic about rents if they wish to keep tenants. Government has to tax everyone less.

           We also need to accept that we now have too many shops for the style of shopping people wish to do. In some cases shops have to be converted into offices or residential and shopping streets have to contract. There is oversupply. Fashions are changing. Our towns and governments local and national  need to change with them.

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88 Comments

  1. Mike Stallard
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    In our town, there are two market places. A hundred years ago there was one huge one, stretching right over the bridge and packed with people. There were a lot of pubs and even a cattle market.
    Now there is just one market place with a superb set of market stalls selling local produce – fish, vegetables, sweets, home made pies and music twice a week.
    The shops are in distress. King’s Lynn is the same. One market place is now a car park. The mediaeval shops are private houses. But the big stores were allowed into the town centre. So you go there.
    Towns change. And, you are quite right, once we get into the car – we go to Peterborough!

  2. Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    I just have to concur. It would help the situation if we had control of taxation like vat.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      The local councils have control of taxation and town parking taxes and that is half the problem. All those pensions for council workers to pay.

  3. lifelogic
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Indeed shops now seem mainly to be used, just to look at product before ordering them on line far more cheaply. I have seen people in book shops flicking through book while ordering then on their smartphones from Amazon at perhaps 60% of the price and with free delivery too.

    “Government has to tax everyone less” which they can clearly only do if they start firing all the many people who do nothing of any use or worse. This and cut their pay/pensions by about 1/3 to take it to the levels and the private sector. Cameron would clearly rather tax, borrow, print and waste. Planning rules also needs to allow change of use of shops more easily (and without any fees, delays or taxes). There should also be no council tax on empty shops.

    So Cameron is to deliver his speech on Monday. I assume he will say:-

    Let me be absolutely clear on this – I will promise a referendum to the UK, years after I have left office with a question that will be suitably biased and determined later. Thus I will be unable to deliver this or have anything to do with it. I will renegotiate with the EU on the basis that I wish to remain in this non democratic, stiffling, EU, come what may. This I will negotiate from a position of total weakness. Nothing of any use beyond a fig leaf will result. Let me be quite clear I was always a EUphile and just pretended not to be for political advantage – the Lance Armstrong of politics – so tough.

  4. alan jutson
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Yes all of the reasons you mention are true, and the way we shop is changing.

    But

    Independent Coffee shops and restaurants will only be busy if there is enough footfall in town centres.
    Many supermarkets have now also introduced a refreshment area, they have also realised that if they use their own premises as a place for people to meet for a reasonably priced drink or snack, they may also pick up the odd food sale at the same time, as well as a possible large weekly, or top up shop.

    Anyone now selling branded goods, often finds themselves in a price war with what is available on the internet.
    Very often shops now find themselves as the information /demonstration / viewing centre for products which they will never sell, or have a hope of selling at high street prices, as manufacturers do not give them any purchase discount advantage for promoting and having knowledge of their products.

    In the end manufacturers may find to their cost, that simple, cheap, box shifting internet organisations cannot demonstrate their products to their best advantage.

    At the moment we are in a period of transition, and manufacturers are having it both ways, you can still view, touch, get information on products in a shop, and also buy the same products on line, but when those shops are gone, you will simply be buying blind from a manufacturers sales information only.

    No I do not own a shop, and never have, I simply prefer to view what I am purchasing before I buy.

    Examples:
    Purchasing Hi FI, use your own ears to listen.
    Purchasing a TV, use your own eyes to view.
    Purchasing Clothes, are they well made and do they actually fit, so you do not have to return them.
    Purchasing shoes, as above.
    Meat, Fruit and veg, condition of products ?.

    The simple message with regard to shops is, use them or lose them, which is also true of most things.

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Absolutely right Alan .

      I was disgusted when a friend of mine told me he had gone to try on a pair of walking boots and returned home to buy them at discount . It would have been better if he had asked the shop manager for discount to close the gap a bit . The managers often have more leeway than people think or can tell them when the next promotion is on .

      Similarly with doing DIY etc as came up a couple of weeks ago . The professionals working in that line need to earn a living . If they can’t then it’s only going to put every ones taxes up .

      In our strange country people moan about a successful footballer spending money on say a Bentley which will provide jobs to people in Crewe and would respect them more if they established a BTL empire which will push the prices up for house buyers .

      Those of us who live in Wokingham should know of the piece of prose which was written in the middle of the last century which includes the names of all the pubs which existed in Wokingham at that time .

      The 2013 version would be about chain coffee shops employing no Britons full of superficial people drinking their poxy lattès .

    • Shade
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      Alan

      I much prefer to buy on line than putting up with the hassle of going to a shop in a high street where I can’t park and to sometimes find the shop does not have what I want. The product reviews on the Internet are usually an excellent guide to how good or otherwise a product or service may be and are often more helpful than you will get from a shop assistant.

      Shade

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        This is so often the case, the main exceptions are where you need to try the size or fit, feel the quality of the fabric or similar, or just need it now today.

      • Rose
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        The internet works if the third party delivering doesn’t damage the goods in transit. Sometimes so many are damaged in succession that you would have done better to have gone to a shop in the first place. No-one seems to be able to communicate with the people who do the damage, so the absurd situation of having to stay in for time after time goes on. Reviews point this out, but what if you really want the product? And once the shop has gone, there is precious little human communication you can find, let alone trust. The companies which survive in this climate are just too big to care.

        In the end I would say it is the motor car rather than the internet which has destroyed our high streets and village economies. People drive further and further afield to shop where they can park free and pay rock bottom prices – and eventually there won’t be anywhere left for them to drive to. Blaming councils for trying to stem the flow of traffic into the limited space in town and city centres isn’t honest. A free for all in motoring wouldn’t result in everyone being able to park outside the high street shop they are going to, and they must know it.

      • alan jutson
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink

        Shade

        Purchase from other peoples reviews as you wish, but are you sure they really are fully independent.

        Read reviews by all means, but I prefer to make my own judgement in the end.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      You will loose them anyway as not enough people will use them.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

        Cameron’s approach was typical of his approach in general get some PR by engaging someone off TV – a TV shopping and retail Tsar.

    • ChrisXP
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

      Being of an older age group, I have to agree with Alan; there are some things I find very difficult to deal with online. I never purchase shoes online, for example, because I’ve got awkward feet….I need to try on at least five pairs before finding one that fits properly and comfortably. The hassle of having to constantly send things back is not something I want. Clothes, same thing….it’s amazing how size 16 seems to vary from one jumper to another, so no good relying on the Internet to deliver the perfect fit.

      Hifi and tv, agree totally that you need to experience the items before parting with your money….a few years ago my husband wanted some new headphones for his hi-fi unit; we both listened to music through several examples in a local town shop before making our decision, and the best one was NOT the most expensive at the end of the day.
      As for food, no way, and no point, being a rural dweller surrounded with plenty of fresh stuff.
      Internet product reviews are often so conflicting in their opinions that I ignore them and make my own decision…..then I’ve only got myself to blame if I choose unwisely.

      And what, pray, will happen when our systems fall prey to power-cuts? If everything is only available “online” and no-one can access it, then we really are in trouble.

  5. Andyvan
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Just about all the problems are caused or made worse by government. High taxes, high labour costs, excessive regulation, high rents (property bubble), and excessive parking charges. The risks are so high for anyone starting a retail business I’m amazed they do it. The only guaranteed winner is the state because it makes sure it gets it’s pound of flesh before anyone else. It does nothing to earn the money, it takes no risks but it expects a tribute for the privilege of being allowed to put your money and your labour into an enterprise that has a high chance of failure.
    The internet is a challenge for shops but a fair one. The government is simply a thief.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      “Just about all the problems are caused or made worse by government.” It was ever thus they should still to defence, law and order and spending no more than 20% of GDP on this. For the rest they usually make it worse.

      • lifelogic
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        “stick”

    • uanime5
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      There’s a large number of retail businesses that operate online (usually on Amazon or eBay) which avoid most of the problems you mentioned and have much lower risks than high street shops. I expect these will become more common simply because they have a much lower budget.

    • libertarian
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      Andyvan

      Spot on, totally agree

  6. Single Acts
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    Why do you wish to “restore health to some High Streets”

    Let them fail, do away with planning zoning nonsense and let the buildings take on their next use. In other words, at the risk of repeating myself, the best thing politicians can do is to get out of the way. This can be achieved at no cost save for some bruised political egos.

    • Bob
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:42 am | Permalink

      Why do you wish to “restore health to some High Streets”

      Especially since it was government that mugged the high street businesses and left them bleeding in the gutter!

    • APL
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Single acts: “This can be achieved at no cost save for some bruised political egos.”

      British Industry is a tale of political interference and willful destruction since the end of the last world war, during which there was some justification for the ‘top down’ command economy.

      Every single sector touched by the politicians and civil service is worse off today; rail infrastructure, steel industry, coal industry, fishing industry, motor industry . The list is tragically long.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        The water, rail, and energy industries didn’t become overpriced until they were given to the private sector. It seems that the state does help some industries.

        • APL
          Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

          uanime5: “The water, rail, and energy industries didn’t become overpriced until they were given to the private sector”

          They became overpriced when they became subject to the ludicrous European Union regulations. We had been able to provide cheap clean fresh drinking water for an increasing large fraction of the population at relativity low cost between 1900 -1973 when the price explosion took off.

          By the way, it hasn’t helped that the population of the UK has exploded too, a result of untrammeled immigration from the third world and most recently, Eastern Europe.

          But that is the political class up to their old tricks again.

          • uanime5
            Posted January 20, 2013 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

            Given that every other EU country doesn’t have this problem it seems that the regulations aren’t to blame.

          • APL
            Posted January 22, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

            uanime5: “Given that every other EU country doesn’t have this problem it seems that the regulations aren’t to blame.”

            Every other EU country (mostly) doesn’t complain because their socio-political conventions expect overbearing interference from the state.

            The UK originated from a socio-political starting point.

            But the fact is the UK was providing clean drinking water, cheaply up until 1973 – some thing, or things changed since then.

            I propose:
            1. The EU with it’s regulations.
            2. The british political class threw open the floodgates for immigration – leading to excessive strain on the infrastructure; transport, water, sewerage, etc.
            3. A combination of both.

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Single Acts ,

      Attempting to adhere to the free market dogmatically will only hasten the trend towards monopolies which will be the only retailers which can afford to keep the buildings in retail use .

      Their will be no room for local retailers . Money spent in the community will not stay there .

      What makes you think that the “next use” that you talk about would be decided by a free market ?

      A next usage of residential would most likely come about because the Government has already skewed the market by engineering a shortage of accommodation .

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Indeed get the state out of the way and release half the state sector workers to get real & more productive jobs – they will be much happier doing something useful.

      • Bazman
        Posted January 19, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Like picking up the dole?

  7. The PrangWizard
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    All this is indeed so, as usual a concise and clear analyis of a problem.
    It’s not easy to predict how far this decline will go and one additional factor is, I think, that a number of people have simply reduced their spending, not directly because their income is squeezed, but they because want to be more careful and live with less.
    As for the high street, the big landlords are presumably trying to maintain rent levels as long as they can, to protect their capital, this being calculated on multiples and security of rent. Initial rent free periods won’t work so well now to attract tenants, rents need to fall dramatically, so there could be big falls in capital wealth as a result.
    Lower costs all round are needed, from much smaller government, fewer and reduced government and local taxes and charges, lower wages, salaries and professional fees, and a general loosening up of all manner of regulations and attitudes, are essential, eventually a level will be then be found and things will pick up.
    Growth won’t come from preserving a moribund system and the printing of funny money.

  8. Alan Wheatley
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    I agree: things are changing and the High Street needs to change with it. But it need not be all gloom and doom.

    The High Street needs to be an attractive place to go. In addition to the points made, shops could help themselves by coordinating their efforts, such as agreeing on a late-night shopping day, perhaps closing on another agreed occasion in compensation for the over-worked sole trader.

    The nature of high street businesses may have to change; out go those that can not compete with the out-of-town outlets and in come those that can offer a specialised and personalised service.

    High Street shops can adapt their business model. They too can have an internet presence and a widespread customer base. Shops can deliver to on-line customers in the surrounding area – perhaps small local traders could form a delivery service run as a cooperative.

    If there are too many shops, then converting some to other business use or residential can bring an advantage to the remaining shops as people coming into the town to work, or already living there, have the shops on their doorstep. A traditional shop model had the shop keeper living above the shop. If not now the shop keeper the residential accommodation could be affordable accommodation, especially for those choosing a lifestyle without a car.

  9. oldtimer
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    The High Street has to reinvent itself – just like the rest of the UK`s business economy – to embrace new technology and the power of the internet.

    I recall visiting a very small specialist shop in a remote fishing village on the coast of Maine some years ago. It specialised in pipes of all kinds – that is pipes that made music. There were about a dozen type of bagpipes on offer, all kinds of flutes, pan pipes and as well as other unusual musical instruments. I asked the owner how well he was doing. It turned out that he was doing very well because over half his sales were made via the internet. Most of his suppliers were global too – he bought much of his product from the traditional, craft suppliers in the countries where they originated. The fact of his wide choice of musical instruments also had the effect of drawing visitors to his shop, remote though it was. He ran his website from a small pc in the corner of his cramped store. Globalisation can work for the small business as well as the large multinational.

    • oldtimer
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Ha! After posting this comment I thought I would look them up on the internet – searched under “bagpipes and flutes maine” and immediately found them trading as Song of the Sea. The website reminded me that they started out making dulcimers and branched out thereafter. But – in a sign of the times – they sold their store in Bar Harbor in 2009. They, like everyone else in business, just have to keep on evolving.

  10. David Williams
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    The Amazon concept works well in the UK because of good transport logistics.

    In Southern Europe, Amazon is not so attractive because deliveries are unreliable (ambiguous postal addresses) and customers can’t pay in cash.

  11. Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I agree with Alan Jutson. The concept of buying relatively expensive items unseen seems odd. You can save some money buying, for example, a bed on line. Delivery will normally be to your front door. You will need to dismantle and dispose of your existing bed and then get the new bed to the bedroom and put it together. After all that you will need a lie down only to find the new bed is not quite as comfortable as you had imagined. Never mind you did save a few “quid”.

    An extreme example perhaps, but applicable in many ways to televisions, Hi Fi and white goods. It all depends if you are happy to pay for service or prefer a DIY approach. The John Lewis approach of establishing a knowledgeable reputation, extended warranties anda sympatheitic approach to customer disatisfaction seems to be working in spite of the internet.

  12. a-tracy
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Aggressive conglomerates buying up their strategic small shop competitors then creating a pincer movement to close down other independents eg. book sellers, travel agents, insurers, shoe shops, then closing down their own duplicate stores and selling limited lines giving people little reason to browse each week.

    Parking is a big problem, you only have to review the shopping town of Altrincham in Cheshire to see this, the council closed down all the free parking and sold off the land to Supermarkets who only give enough free parking to do your weekly shop in their store, offices emptied as parking for their employees got too expensive giving even less footfall at the shops, when the McDonalds closed because of lack of footfall you know it’s only a time for that street to die off and it did.

    My concern over the Internet is the tax losses, if we buy from Companies not located and paying taxes in the UK how much is this disrupting our balance of payments now if the money created in the UK continually drips out. How successful are UK companies at selling using the Internet to people outside of the UK? Is this measured? How many businesses that we all think are British are actually based offshore? Purchasers need a clean, simple to understand explanation as to how to help Britain claw back some of the tax income that goes abroad through their buying choices. Not very free market of me I know, but where is the new money going to come from if we continue with ignorant purchasing.

  13. margaret brandreth-j
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I suggest that there are many factors involved with declining retailing in towns and cities. Firstly parking and over vigilante meter maids is a problem.If a shopper can get what they want from a retail park which usually offer a couple of hours of free parking, then why should they go to town ?Are the public expected to browse and buy goods when they have to look at their watches every few minutes. Are they expected buy lunch out and christmas gifts in the one hour 40 mins and no return within 6 hour slot? The various councils army- like control of parking has driven people out . Even when tickets have been wrongly distrubuted’ the parking dept supports its employees and not the public…so why bother going through that hassle.

    Now look at the stores which sell labels, then in the next year goods are sold off at other distributors for half the price. Does it make sense to buy new every year when in a couple of months in the future prices will have fallen dramatically?

    Competition is driving prices down and the stores which support more employees and perhaps charge more are driven out of existence as they cannot afford to pay staff any more. There is less quality choice.

    A lot of tacky high street shops have taken over …supply and demand… which do not suit the mature persons taste.

    The last point is obvious..if people havn’t got money to spend, they are either foolish and go into debt ..and this has been demonstrated on a large scale to be disasterous ..or they simply do not buy.

  14. Electro-Kevin
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    In straitened times people are trying to spend less and the difference between online and high street prices is too wide – this is mainly as a result of the overvaluation of property in the UK.

    The landlords won’t get real on their rents so now we see the market getting real for them instead.

    These units will remain empty – unless squatted in as temporary emporiums for shiny leather jackets or blingy iphone covers.

    Why is property so over valued ? For fear that banks will go under if ever the true value of ‘assets’ were realised. In housing they are even bringing out multi-generational mortgages rather than let the market fall to levels affordable with average wages. “Use Mum and Dad’s savings with one of our new mortgages.” says the advert.

    Shop closures are tragic for the UK. Many jobs are going to be lost and those large retailers that are left seem to be going for automated check-outs anyway.

    What on earth are our youth going to do for a living ???

    Remember that the trend towards internet shopping has been forced by economic downturn rather than some marvelous technological revolution. There is nothing like walking through a real market to browse and compare – or to buy something that you did not even realise you wanted or needed.

    I for one have been using local retailers and paying slightly over the odds because I don’t want my local high street turning into a ghost town. I also refuse to use automated checkouts.

    Boarded up high streets.

    Well what did we expect economic depression to look like ?

  15. Magnolia
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I live in a tourist hotspot with a pretty High Street. We still have good independent butchers, bakers and market veg stalls but the whole lot are only open during working hours when most other people are working too and unavailable to do their food shopping. Not everyone wants to plan ahead in an organised fashion using freezers and the like and it’s nice to be able to browse the food for ideas as well as other non-perishable goods.
    In the winter the council rewards us locals by allowing us to use our residents parking permits (for which we pay about £50 per year for 2 hours of parking per day) but we are denied access to the car parks during the peak day time from April to October when the tourists get priority to the parking places.
    We are punished for keeping the local shops going during the quiet times.
    The local supermarkets are heaving in the evening when everyone gets out of work.
    How long can the OAPs keep our lovely food shops going when the council treats us so badly?
    I would like the independent food shops to open during the evenings with free parking from 5pm onwards and cheap quick shop parking for say a 45mins stay. The shops can shut at times during the day when most other people are at work.
    It would be far better to get your shopping for tea as you travel home from work.
    More people would cook fresh ingredients if it were possible to shop for them in this way.
    Our council doesn’t seem to understand this and persists with pleasant tourist tat.

  16. Atlas
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Quote: “Councils often add to the distress of local shopping areas by imposing penal car parking charges on visitors, and making it more and difficult to get access to the shopping centre by car. This drives more people to out of town retailers where you can park free of charge outside the shop of your choice.”

    Too true – and certainly applicable to my own actions. I really don’t understand what drives councils in this matter – even Conservative councils.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      “I really don’t understand what drives councils in this matter – even Conservative councils.”

      Er………….Money, power the need to pay all those 50% higher salaried and pensioned state sector workers. The Same think that drives Hammersmith and Fulhams’s box junction cameras £1.5M PA just from one I understand.

      The state sector, unless well controlled and directed, becomes a sort of malignancy. Growing merely to feed itself.

      Does anyone think it is well controlled by this or the last government or the EU who do so much or it now?

      • APL
        Posted January 22, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

        lifelogic: “Does anyone think it is well controlled by this or the last government or the EU who do so much or it now?”

        no, but your example illustrates another phenomena.

        When on the rare occasions central government puts the squeeze on local authorities, they look for alternative income streams.

        Opaque parking regulations and ever more obtuse traffic bylaws seem to be a favorite of the LA trying to supplement it’s income. Another is the Local Authority bailiff scam.

        The result, no cuts and the squeeze is applied to the ordinary man or woman in the street.

        Just like the Mafia.

  17. Neil Craig
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    This is being treated as if it was government’s job to ensure that, because shops have, for the last 2 centuries, been how we buy goods, they must help it stay that way.

    While there is a strong case for the state no longer treating shops, other businesses, people driving to them etc. as cash cows beyond that it is their job only to let the market work freely. There is no need for politicians to lecture us on where we should or shouldn’t buy things.

  18. Liz
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    The high overheads that British shops have has been obvious for years – it has resulted in “rip off Britain” with goods sold here dearer than the same items in many other countries. The landlord favoured shop lease – upward only rent reviews and overlong leases were supposed to be tackled by the last Labour Government but the ducked it. Now with the internet the chickens are coming home to roost – but for how long. Once there is no competition on the high street prices on the internet will rise. Internet food shopping is being subsidised by the in store customer. The delivery charge does not even cover the labour costs of the person who collects the delivery from the shelves, let alone delivery itself, so the profit margin for the supermakerket is very slim. Is this sustainable? It is indeed cheaper to order a book from Amazon – but it now emerges that they pay almost no tax in the UK. Meanwhile the long delayed redevelopment of Wokingham shopping centre which would mean even more shops is increasingly looking not such a good idea after all!

  19. Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Agreed there are the factors above which have a significant bearing on the issue. But there are also structural demographic changes occurring which have a major effect. As an OAP the only clothing bought in the last five years are socks and I am far from being alone.

  20. Chris Rickard
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Well, excess consumption, of which consumer spending was an important constituent, is one of the major reasons why personal debt levels are so high and the economy so much in the mire. Dampening that down is not necessarily bad news, particularly as consumer spending sucked in imports which increased the trade deficit. Of course, its not good news either to see retail chains go bust. Quite apart from increasing unemployment, it reduces competition so leads to market concentration and higher prices which is not good news either. Gov policy should not be directed at proposing up or stimulating consumer spending. It should be to (1) remove the unfair advantages that shopping has – no VAT or corporation tax if based offshore, so that shopping should be on a level playing field; and (2) to stimulate competition by eliminating market concentration.

    The issue for the high street is how to revitalise them. Making them more attractive for people to meet and socialise (without encouraging binge drinking) would be a good start. Regeneration to include housing & residential developments would also help and be a much more sensible housing policy than that Nick Boles proposed lunacy in concreting over the countryside .

  21. Gordon Mutch
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    The ‘clicks and bricks’ approach is an interesting development. Yesterday I found hive.co.uk which offers books, CDs, DVDs online with delivery via local independent bookshops. The price for the book I wanted was close enough to Amazon to be acceptable.

    As well as problems of rents, rates, and parking, many local High Streets lack visual appeal, interest, and pedestrian comfort, in contrast with larger shopping centres. There is a need for some imaginative designers allied with entrepreneurs to build high streets based on new shopping and distribution models.

  22. John Wrexham
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    One of the problems with the British High Street is the poor standard of service; in fact it’s so bad in mainstream and bargain chains, clicking on a screen is actually a more pleasant experience. Service is so much better in the rest of Europe, even the old eastern Europe!!
    The car parking issue is more complicated than politicians would have us believe. In the run-up to Christmas, people were driving round and round the town centre car parks in my local town trying to find somewhere to park and the parking’s not free. Out of town car parks should have to impose parking charges and we could use that money to cut or freeze council tax. It’s about time the big multi-nationals put some cash into the local economies of UK plc rather than just take, take, take.
    Meanwhile, quite a few high streets would make great mixed residential areas with cafes, restaurants and the like on the ground floor and apartments on the upper floors. Has to be better than the current mix of dull charity shops, pop-up shops, payday loan sharks, bookies and pound shops!!
    Of course, best way to force some action from the latifundia landlords of the modern high street would be to use the business rates to encourage them to sell if they can’t rent the place within six months. Time to return the setting of business rates to the locality and to encourage some experimentatation, rather than continue with the dead hand of Whitehall.

  23. Chris Sheldrake
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    The concept of High Street shopping in every town is way past it’s sell by date but the pace of decline is being accelerated more by the action of councils than of the internet

    Even Conservative controlled ones like Bournemouth.

    We now have no free parking left in the town, not even a few short stay spaces and the closest metered spaces to the town centre are now all reserved for the disabled and so are almost always unoccupied. Pretty much the same applies in other local shopping areas like Winton and Boscombe. Both used to be thriving.

    Add a 1984-style camera car that drives around nicking parked cars at every opportunity to raise cash – in clear breach of the Dept of Transport guidelines on their use, I might add – and Castle Point, a modern retail park on the very doorstep and you can see why town centres are gradually dying.

    As a shop landlord I can look forward to my rental income being halving when it comes to be renegotiated : hardly surprising with the huge obstacles being placed on businesses trying to make a living in any town centre.

  24. Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Why? Oh! why? doesn’t the Government think as you do and get on with it?

    One problem is that the Central Government has required Local Authorities to “wash its own face” more & more and they have had to resort to these stupid methonds to raise cash not realising in the long term that they are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

  25. Ted Greenhalgh
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    VAT is a tax on spending and at 20% must be having the desired effect.

  26. David John Wilson
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    “We also need to accept that we now have too many shops for the style of shopping people wish to do. In some cases shops have to be converted into offices or residential and shopping streets have to contract. There is oversupply. Fashions are changing. Our towns and governments local and national need to change with them.”

    However the centre of your own constituency Wokingham is set on detroying the only reasonably sized open space in the centre of the town with a development that includes more shops and another supermarket. Meanwhile at the other end of the town centre more and more shops are closing. We can anticipate another one in the near future with the demise of Blockbusters.

  27. forthurst
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    “Landlords need to be more realistic about rents if they wish to keep tenants.”

    I know of two cases in my local area where a successful business has been bankrupted by someone from the ME purchasing the freehold of a shop and then doubling the rent.

    It seems to me that landlords should not be permitted to engage in a learning experience at the expense of tenants, nor is the fact that someone has access to capital proof that they are not both extremely greedy and extremely stupid.

    Having recognised there is an oversupply of retail space in the high street, is it not appropriate to consider regulation of rents so that the real entrepreneur, the man who remortgages his house to employ shopfitters and staff and stock is not suddenly confronted by enormous unforseen expense or re-establishing his business elsewhere? Would it not be appropriate to recognise that the high street entrepreneur, he who provides local employment, is the shopkeeper, not the landlord? Would it not be appropriate to create a framework of law in which once a property has been rented, the rent cannot be attenuated other than on the basis of a clear relationship to local rates/valuations and can be forced down in a declining market? Furthermore, that long periods of notice should be required if possession is required for change of use. In this way, landlords would not be able to reward themselves from others’ success and would not be able to destroy a viable business, arbitrarily.

    • forthurst
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Cameron has berated the lack of ‘moral scruples’ of foreign owned businesses which avoid corporation tax whilst operating here, but JR says, “Fashions are changing. Our towns and governments local and national need to change with them. ”

      The concern should not be so much of foreigners’ lack of scruples, but on the very obvious failure of government to fairly adjust business taxation to create as far as possible a level playing field and ensure that the costs of government are not unfairy burdensome on some business sectors. The business rates were originally conceived to pay for the Poor Laws; is it not time to recognise that sometimes old methods of doing things whether it is purchasing branded consumer goods or raising taxes are simply out-of-date?

    • uanime5
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      That is only possible if there’s some form of rent control, something that’s unpopular with renters precisely because they can’t keep increasing the rents.

    • lifelogic
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

      Landlord can only charge Market rents at the time or they will have no tenants. True the rent may have declined since but a contract is a contract. The last thing the landlord wants is no tenant at all.

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        Landlords with many properties can charge above market rents as long as the extra money they get is greater than the money lost by having fewer tenants.

    • A different Simon
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      Anything that could be done to reduce the cost of business premises would provide a stimulus to the economy .

  28. Michael Cawood
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I have just bought a new camera, an expensive Canon DSLR. Due to the camera’s high price I took 3 months to make up my mind which camera I wanted. Sadly by the time I had chosen the model, Jessops had closed down their entire operation – big mistake here. Other shops selling cameras were either much more expensive or did not stock the model I wanted, so I had no choice but to shop on-line.
    No one can possibly be blamed for going for the lowest price, especially when VAT is at a whopping 20% (how long before VAT gets to 25% or even 40%?).
    I sincerely hope that Labour are not thinking of either prohibiting on-line shopping or severely restricting it because this is their mentality.

    • uanime5
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      How exactly would you prohibit or restrict online shopping when it’s possible to buy things from other countries?

      • Bob
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

        @uanime5
        “How exactly would you prohibit or restrict online shopping when it’s possible to buy things from other countries?”

        I’m sure that Brussels can dream up a method of controlling on-line shopping once they put their minds to it.

    • Bob
      Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      @Michael Cawood
      “I sincerely hope that Labour are not thinking of either prohibiting on-line shopping or severely restricting it…”

      According to Labour MP Caroline Flint on QT this week, free postage offered by online sellers is the problem.

      So it’s not shoplifters, business rates, parking fines and high cost of insurance driven by health and safety regs then?

      This demonstrates very clearly her depth of understanding in the field of commerce.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      Remind us who’s mentality put up VAT in the real world?

  29. David Saunders
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    As a commercial property landlord the comment ‘rents are high’ is simplistic. Rents reflect market supply and demand and if landlords try to obtain the best return on their investments this does not make them wrong or bad – it is a fact of life. It is a matter for landlords to make a judgement on the level of rents but helping unprofitable or zombie businesses to stay afloat is not sensible. If a tenant cannot make a go of his/her shop’s position they should quit and allow new businesses to start up. This applies to the national economic situation as well where low interest rates have kept poor businesses alive and blocked new growth.

  30. backofanenvelope
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Lying in bed last night reading, about 11 o’clock, I finished my book. Fancying reading another one by the same author, I went online and with one click bought the book and 20 seconds later was reading it. Stand by for bookshops to follow music and video shops.

    What we don’t want is an expensive rear guard action to preserve the High Street in aspic.

    • Michael Cawood
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Obviously an e-book though. Might take a bit longer to get a printed book.

  31. uanime5
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Just like the UK changed from corner stores to superstores it’s now changing from high street stores to online stores. I suspect that the high street will survive in one way or another, just like some corner stores still survive in out of town areas.

  32. Antisthenes
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Most are bemoaning the loss of the high street as a place to brows and shop. To me it is something to be cheerful about as it is showing capitalism at it’s best. Entrepreneurship and innovation is being seen acting in a way that in the end makes us all richer as that what cost cutting, more choice and efficiency savings does. Resistance to this sort of change is socially understandable but is very short sighted and in the long run is not in societies best interest at all. This change from high street to large easy to park at shopping parks and the internet is an oasis of free market capitalism in a desert of centralised planning and control, government intervention and manipulation. Economically and long term socially I know which is working the best it is a pity very few others do and fall for lefties, greens and other assorted loonies propaganda that the way to prosperity is through socialism; not for profit, subsidies, social engineering and all the other claptrap they spout . Unfortunately they are winning the argument not by the substance of the argument but by the gloss of it. Something for nothing and entitlement without effort or responsibility being the message. It is of course an empty promise and makes me think that the only difference between socialism and Islam is that one promises paradise in the next life and the other in this one.

  33. Barbara
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    There are two ways of looking at this, firstly, the High St as been overtaken by charity shops, where there used to be a variety, they have now gone. Small shops had become expensive to use, and when the ‘out of town shopping centres’ came into being is signed the death knell of many independant shops. Free parking, safe shopping, security, and a multitude of different shops to choose from, and eating out places from different types of food. No beggars allowed, no youths shouting and running about on skateboards, secruity personal available if you need them; need I go on. In all the shopping malls are a safe place to shop, sales can be good with the competition, and with free parking it says it all. All in one place, with the parking places available, buses stations situated near by, with banks building societies, what more can the shopper ask for.

  34. Mark B
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Very good article.

    Indeed, councils are making it far more difficult too go by car. Car parking is very expensive, especially if you only have a few item you might want to purchase.

    And as a society as a whole, we are becoming more mobile and information rich, meaning that we can search and journey to get better deals. Think secondhand car sales or homes.

    plus shopping, at busy times like Christmas, is a real pain.

    Times indeed are a changing.

  35. waramess
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Let the High Streets fail. They have failed abysmally to heed the needs of their customers and in most places keep to an opening time of 9-5 with a half day during the week and no trading on Sundays.

    They are behind the times and their weeping and wailing should not be heeded until they manage their opening hours to accommodate their customers rather than expect their customers to accommodate their hours of opening.

  36. Bazman
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Shops like pubs have been hammered by the government and big business. The shops left are either charity shops, opticians or estate agents. There are however some who are growing and doing good trade in my town of three joined villages. Specialist shops like hi-fi, wine, and computers. A local butcher has just opened and look like a proper job. There is still the die hards an ironmonger, there was two but the owner retired. Real 1950’s. shop. A greengrocer privately owned childrens clothes shops, sweets shop all competing with the big companies. Need a tattoo, tooth pulled or a haircut? No problem. My house is almost entirely furnished carpeted, supplied with white goods and electronics from the local high street. I am not some rich wet eyed old man harking back to better days, The price quality and service was and is better on the high street, take a good look, and this is largely a working class town with a large number of pubs cafe’s and geezers in them. Everyday living can still be carried out in the village area where I live with local shops supermarkets, pubs takeaways etc, but no burger joints. Good thing even though I do eat them. Who needs them on the high street and who wants to live in a town with a post box and a church as the only facilities? The high street is not dying, but like pubs undergoing great and painful changes and putting millions on the dole and cutting benefits is not going to help it. Ram it.

  37. wab
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Redwood conveniently fails to mention that the global internet operations have an unfair tax advantage because they choose how much tax to pay, or not, and generally that means not. Of course for people who think that tax is evil this is probably a feature not a bug. For companies above a certain size, tax should be levied on turnover in the UK and not on alleged “profit” (which can be reduced to zero by convenient accounting tricks involving shuffling money to other countries).

    • libertarian
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

      Total nonsense, why dont you go and find out what you’re talking about before posting this tosh.

      Taxes vat of 20-% is levied on EVERYTHING bought into this country no matter where it was bought from. ALL employees resident in the UK pay tax and the companies pay ENI. Business rates on premises are paid too.

      Oh good idea yet another tax, a tax on turnover so basically every supplier of high value goods will go bust whilst low turnover high profit businesses thrive thereby making a FALL in the overall tax take.

      Really Wab, do try and do some research first

      • uanime5
        Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        You ignored corporation tax, which several large companies have been dodging by off-shoring their profits. You also ignored all the ways the wealthy avoid paying income tax.

        libertarian you are the one who needs to do some research.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      He also forgets to mention the legal grey area of downloading media from sites based globally and able to avoid copyright legalities. Pretending that it is not happening will not make the issue go away. The music and film industry still has no more strategy than prosecution and taxes on equipment. A few years time will see them totally overun by technology.

  38. Brigham
    Posted January 19, 2013 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    I lived in Brighton up to WW2. Since then I have always visited it several times a year for nostalgia. I used to look round and have a meal. I have ceased to visit for about 3 years now because of the exorbitant parking charges. Why are local councils so stupid?

    • uanime5
      Posted January 20, 2013 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

      I blame the people who keep electing these councils.

  39. Posted January 19, 2013 at 11:48 pm | Permalink

    It’s interesting to look at the places which buck the trend. I live in a market town which is one. There are lots of and lots of shops but very few chains (just a Boots, a Sainsbury’s and some banks). Shops adapt rapidly to change in a way which is highly tailored to the precise customer flow which exists here. When one shop closes other will change to ensure good are not left unsupplied.

    Profits have always been low and being a shopkeeper is as much as way of life in its own right as a means to an end.

    The music shop has not closed – it has just adapted to focus more on instruments and folk music. The Blockbuster closed ages ago but other shops supply DVDs. The electronics shop has gradually moved away from cameras into other areas.

  40. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Recovery is underway, driven – as it must be – by people pricing themselves back into work. Raising the income tax threshold towards £10,000 has been a Godsend for the creation of low wage and part time jobs, at the expense of total income tax revenue. Now let’s see what we can do for higher end employment.

    With the failure of several High Street retail chains, landlords and banks have to accept that rents and prices for High Street commercial property have to go down. Conversion of some of the floor space to residential use will follow.

  41. Libby
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Suggestion: If you are wanting to see how small cafes, individual shops & markets can work visit http://www.pennybloodsblackbook.com for an amazing selection in parts of London. These places are usually very busy, good value and make for a fun shopping experience.

  42. Jon
    Posted January 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I know a number of very left wing people, socialists and a communist. None of them would consider not buying from Amazon, the price being cheaper as they don’t pay corporation tax. They are aware of this but their higher ideology means they support anything thats cheaper but complain about bodies not paying corp tax and 3rd world working conditions.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

      Most people have limited money and do not really have the choice to pay higher prices whatever their political ideals are. You assume that Amazon and other companies pass on their cost savings to their employees and customers and prices would rise if they had to pay taxes. Got any more right wing fantasies Jon?

  43. David Langley
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    The High St in Macclesfield is basically a wind tunnel with garbage. The shops are in old buildings that appear to be falling apart in most cases. Lots of blight with boarded up shops etc etc. The who place reeks of third world ambition, often you see a new shop opening and the proprietor trying hard to generate sales, far too often the same shop is closing down with massive reductions some weeks later. We have written before on the task facing councils trying to raise revenue and landlords refusing to reduce rents. Pushing water up hill is easier than trying to regenerate the total disaster that is my local high street. I want a high street that is a warm comfortable and interesting place to visit where my money can be sucked out of my pocket in surroundings conducive to hanging around and taking the time to visit because it will be a pleasant as well as a necessary experience.

  44. Bazman
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Bookies, pawnbrokers, and money lending shops are doing a roaring trade in the high street. They are all over the place. Add to that charity shops, strip clubs, casinos, opticians, cheap pubs, estate agents, phone stores and discount stores, as well as a record number of fast food outlets the high street is giving the customers what they want and need. The market has decided, so lets not tamper with market forces and let the high street retailers get on with the job of providing all these services to the highest standards and should more be needed not let local councils get in their way as often it is about snobbery and not what the population demands. The nightlife is the very lifeblood of any high street and for many a perfect night out is a cheap chain pub, strip club/casino and a takeaway often funded by the pawnbroker or if they are a bit short, a payday loan and who are we to judge on these perfectly legal and tax generating activities? Leave our town centeres alone is the message that should be sent to any government and in particular the local councils.

    • Edward
      Posted January 23, 2013 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Baz,
      You are turning into a real right wing free marketeer.
      It must be the gradual positive effect of Mr Redwood’s excellent articles and all the other contributors to this site.
      We will have you canvassing for us yet!

      • Bazman
        Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

        It’s like cardboard over Paris or showing a dog a card trick isn’t it Edward? Like many right wingers and fifteen year olds you have disjointed political thinking and a lack of irony. The lack of replies to this post is telling of the fantasists and their simplistic free market ideas. They know they will be made to look stupid if they reply. You have no such qualms. Well done.

  45. Edward
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Baz,
    I think I am the last person on here who is still bothered to reply to your often childish left wing rants and now even I am becoming bored.
    Your regular desperate demands for replies to your dull posts as if that somehow proves you are right, demonstrates a big ego, but not much else.
    More humour, less unecessary rudeness and personal attacks, better political arguments, backed up by facts and statistics, might be a good way to proceed.
    PS I was being ironic.

    • Bazman
      Posted January 25, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      Calm down Dear! Despite his adulation of Margaret that Thatcher I was a big fan of Micheal Winner. The man everyone hated to love.

  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
    Published and promoted by Thomas Puddy for John Redwood, both of 30 Rose Street Wokingham RG40 1XU
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