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Who Is To Blame For The Demise Of The High Street (October 2014)

So more and more shops are closing on the high street, more and more bricks and mortar retailers are going out of business, so who do we blame?

Is it the internet, the shop owners, the customers, the council, the Government, all of them?

Or nobody, is it just the natural evolution of the high street?

I always give the Record Shop example to my clients.

First there were independent vinyl record shops dotted around town. Selling a vast array of 33's and 45's, there was always a knowledgeable member of staff behind the counter who could always give you the best advice.

This sort of personal service was excellent and it was great to talk to a like-minded individual who could discuss your music tastes, and perhaps even suggests other artists you might like who you hadn’t heard of before.

Then the larger stores started getting on board. (Woolworths and Our Price were the two major outlets in my home town of Redditch). They were not only selling vinyl records, but music cassettes and video tapes. There was more of a main stream range in these shops and the prices were very competitive.

This larger collection meant the end for the vinyl record shops, and they mostly blamed the larger stores for their closure.

And then along came HMV, who not only sold a vast array of vinyl, tapes, and films, but also games. There were games machines set up around the shop for you to try before you buy, and also mixing decks for the wannabe DJ's to try their hands at.

Woolworths and Our Price then closed leaving HMV with a clear field.

Suddenly, the internet comes on the scene along with an explosion of online outlets offering a vast array of products and cheap prices. With this, as well as the advent of music downloads, HMV suddenly found themselves in difficulty.

Now the shop owner in each case has been too busy concentrating on their current market and not looking at what’s ahead of them. Just as they had their product range right, somebody came along with something new and took their trade.

The customer hasn’t demonstrated too much brand loyalty here and has naturally chosen the outlet with the greatest amount of choice for the most competitive price.

In the end, the internet has offered the best deal for range of product and price. This has forced the closure of stores who just can’t compete with the online choice.

So are the shop closures on the high street just a natural organic process that will happen no matter how shops try to grow? Are we trying to fight an unwinnable battle by keeping shops open when we should let the shopping precinct quietly lie down and die?

The survival of high street retail very much depends on their ability to offer what the internet can’t.

The high street needs to be a community where it’s not only a place for people to shop, but a community where shop customers and shop workers support each other and offer an experience that you can’t get from the internet.

In the future I see the High Street being a place to go even when you don't plan to spend a lot of money. It needs to be the central focus of the community and it needs to have an old pub type feel to it.

The High Street needs to be somewhere you can go to shop or just to see a few friendly faces when you are passing through.

Now I am not saying that the problems lies purely with the retailers.

Councils and the Government really do need to look at any possible opportunity to give the smaller shop owners a chance to run a successful high street business.

They could help the businesses with incentives such as reduced business rates, tax breaks and rent free periods. The initial stages of any business are the toughest and probably where shops need help the most.

The local councils could help with free parking periods, advertising assistance and "Shop Local" programmes where consumers are encouraged to spend their money with local businesses.

Opinion is often divided on who is to blame for the demise of the High Street. The only thing that everybody agrees on, is that something needs to be done about it.

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