Death on the high street 

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Photo by David Harmantas

Walk through many towns and cities in the UK and you will notice the same dispiriting sight.

Where once there were quirky independent stores, banks and established chains now there are bookies, payday lenders and charity shops. Lots and lots of charity shops.

Of course it is not the same story everywhere – there are pockets of thriving retailers dotted around.

But the overall trend is clear. According to a recent report by accountancy firm PwC fifteen shops close every day.

One major factor is the impact of rising business rates. British business owners pay the highest business rates in Europe, and more than their French and German counterparts combined.

But the crisis in bricks and mortar retail is not limited to this country. In the United States a profound change is taking place too. Big name retail brands are going bust. Huge suburban shopping malls – for decades a mainstay of American life – are starting to close.

It is not hard to see why. In the same month that Ralph Lauren announced it would be closing its swanky flagship Fifth Avenue store, the New York Times reported that e-commerce retailers were competing to rent space within a vast eleven acre waterfront warehouse in Brooklyn – so they can deliver goods to customers in New York on the same day they are ordered online.

But Amazon and co are not solely to blame for the death of the high street store. While it is true we are spending more online than ever before – the hundreds of courier vans on our streets are testament to that – something else is happening too.

For years researchers have been telling us that doing things makes us happier than buying products. It seems people might finally be taking notice. There is a small but significant and growing shift in consumer behaviour.

Disposable income is increasingly being spent on Instagram-friendly experiences such as eating out, attending festivals and travel.

And when we go into towns our expectations are different. People are now as likely to be carrying coffee cups as shopping bags. Co-working spaces are opening. We are choosing to live in the centre of cities again. There is life in those old buildings yet.

Photo by wwwuppertal

This article first appeared in the Lancaster Guardian where I write a weekly column.

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