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.