Can The High Street Be Saved?

Local shops have acted as economic anchors in every town centre in every part of the country for an age. But the growth of online shopping poses problems for retailers everywhere.

Heart and soul

Shops have traditionally been the heart and soul of town centres, as they provide vibrancy and a focal point for local communities. The high street has changed in recent years as local retailers compete with large supermarkets. There has been a shift from small local outlets to a mix of locally owned shops and larger chain stores. Even in the context of competition between local shops and large retailers there are benefits as both types of business employ local people, support local economies, and strengthen local communities. The presence of large retailers helps small shops survive as they attract customers and create passing trade for everyone. The most recent shift, however, has been to online shopping, which provides a new and significant threat to high street traders. As a result traditional shops are closing on a regular basis, which increases the number of empty buildings in every town in the country.

For many years experts talked about the decline of the high street but in the last decade there has been an increase in the pace of decline. The rise of internet shopping triggered unprecedented change in the shopping habits of millions of people. And the trend continues as Amazon and other online giants have only begun the process of depopulating the high street. Some areas fight back by providing other attractions but the draw of town centres has always been the mix of its retail offering. Young and old alike are drawn to places with a variety of shops that offer value and a chance to meet others.

Serving the community

Such characteristics are what shoppers want and in their absence they go elsewhere. Shops have always played a central role in local communities, as they provide opportunities to chat, drink coffee and foster a sense of belonging. The loss of jobs has a negative effect on every town but there is also a magnified effect as the fabric of a place changes too. Many people find other jobs and shoppers find other ways to shop but towns struggle to survive, as they suffer from a process of decline from which it is difficult to recover.

High streets laden with a variety of shops that serve the public play a key role in fostering economic wellbeing. They allow people to mix in a way that brings them together and share stories. But the high street like many other areas of life is forced to change without knowing what lies ahead.

So, everyone wants to save local shops on the high street but finding a solution is difficult in a world that is so rapidly moving online.