Saving the High Street

Retail pain continues with the news that Mothercare is to close a third of its 373 UK stores.

JJB Sports has just announced losses 0f £181.4 million for the year to 30 January 2011, three times the previous year’s loss of £68.6 million and plan to close 89 of their 247 stores over the next two years.

And HMV has just had to sell Waterstone’s for £53 million to pay down some of its £170 million of debt. In addition, they also propose to close 40 stores.

Oddbin’s too, has gone like most other wine retail chains, following its failed attempt to agree a restructuring plan with creditors, which was rejected by HMRC.

Plainly there is a major earthquake taking place on the High Street, and it is not all about cutbacks in consumer spending. More importantly retail purchasing is changing. Consumers are becoming sharper shoppers by looking elsewhere, not just in the High Street.  They are visiting dedicated retail parks combining shopping and leisure to offer an experience, entertainment and convenience in one place and are also increasing their online spending.

The government has recently asked Mary ‘Queen of Shops’ Portas to take a look at the country’s High Streets and come up with suggestions for rescuing them, clearly hoping to find a way of rejuvenating this part of the UK economy.

She may well conclude that the competition from shopping and leisure centres with their easy access via car and public transport is too much and that the High Street can survive but only if it offers something different.

Locals still like to buy from local shops that provide a personal service, ideally selling local produce such as farm-sourced. This ought to support retailers like the grocer who lets you taste a piece of cheese before you buy, independent butchers who will advise, trim or even marinate meat and local bakers. Pubs, restaurants and cafes that cater for families, young people, the elderly all play their part in supporting community, even the self-help run library. But for the High Street to avoid further decline, everyone needs to work together and this will require leadership.

You never know, the High Street may be once again be a place where shopping is an enjoyable experience, but what will it look like?

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