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Recently I’ve had the opportunity to get out and about to speak with local businesses and shop owners – and it’s been a real eye-opener.
From those seemingly empty shops that are dong “exceptionally well” in business, to those ready to give up the ghost because our High Streets have changed, I have learned so much in the last few weeks it has surprised me.
To be honest, I didn’t really give it much thought until recently, but our High Streets have changed from what they were years ago.
Gone are the boutique shops and butchers and in come trendy cafes and restaurants. As one shop owner I spoke with told me, “You can’t buy a cup of coffee on the internet, can you?”
I was certain you could, but I knew the point she was making.
Changing times for the High Street
The internet has changed people’s shopping habits massively. Now that places like Amazon can get orders out within just a few hours, our ‘want it now’ culture has been (almost) fully satisfied.
And with talk of driverless cars and drones delivering our goods, there might even come a time when we never need set foot outside our homes again – unless it catches fire of course.
I recall seeing a TV programme a number of years ago where a journalist took part in a social media experiment. Her aim was to stay indoors for two weeks and survive only on what she could buy online.
She bought a bed and duvet/sheets to sleep in, a TV to watch, a microwave oven, kettle and toaster, food and toiletries….you get the point. And survive she did.
But in a way I find this quite sorrowful. There are a few small villages near me that have a real community spirit about them; what a shame it would be if the day came when the villagers don’t know each other’s names or that the dishy vet at number 5 is having it away with the Peters’ eldest daughter.
You can bank on it
And the more I research and talk to people, the more I see how high streets have changed. In my local town a lot of pop-up shops, cafes and restaurants have opened up, while we’ve seen the loss of things like the local deli shop, shoe shops and giftware outlets.
The supermarket giants like Tesco haven’t helped in facilitating the independents – now that you can practically buy everything you need in them, why would the majority of time-strapped shoppers choose to spend more time out and about when they can just buy everything in one place?
I met one shop owner, a dry cleaners, who complained that the level of footfall had dropped in the town because of one reason – the bank closures.
According to him, the town had once had three banks, which then dwindled down to two – a Natwest and a Barclays. Then last year we lost both of them in close succession. One had been transformed into a trendy wine bar and the other had become a florist.
I was surprised that he put diminishing footfall levels down to the banks. I wondered why most people didn’t do their banking online.
Take myself as an example. I have mobile banking with Santander; if I receive a cheque I can put it ‘in the hole in the wall’ and if I want my PIN changed that’s also something I can do without the help of a cashier. In fact, apart from withdrawing a very large amount of money, there’s nothing I can’t do either online, on my phone or at the automatic cash dispenser for my day-to-day living.
And I’m not a millennial either – I’m in my mid-40s and I’ve had to learn how to do these things because I can see how much easier they have made my life.
So why would the bank closures see people refuse to pop down to our local town? They haven’t stopped me. Surely the supermarkets are a bigger draw than having a bank? And we also have a dentist, a dry cleaners, a convenience store/newsagents…
If the dry-cleaners had told me that the closure of the local Post Office had lost a lot of shoppers to the bigger town, I would have believed him. It somehow seems harder (and more hassle) to send a parcel from home than it does at the Post Office, but the Post Office was still going strong.
There’s little doubt that our changing habits and lifestyles affect the things we buy and shop for locally. We’ll always need the cafes and restaurants to meet friends and enjoy family celebrations, and we’ll always need supermarkets to grab a pint of milk on the way home from work.
But it’s also nice to browse in a charity shop, grab a last minute gift for a friend’s birthday or pop into the travel agents to treat yourself to a cheeky spa weekend.
So although I’m open to change – and can embrace most of our rapidly changing buying habits, too much change wouldn’t be great. Besides, when I’m out and about, it’s surprising how many people I bump into for a quick chat and catch up – and that’s something I’d definitely miss.
What would you miss about not being able to ‘shop local’?