There have been big high street casualties before – it’s still a surprise not to see a Woolworths on the high street. Recently Jessops (the camera people) have gone into administration in January, now so have Blockbuster and so have HMV. Following Comet’s failure at the end of last year it’s a huge impact on the high street and a devastating impact on all the experienced people working in these stores. While many economists can talk dispassionately about “effective business models” and “slow to respond to market changes” analysis, maybe there is a more worrying trend, that is also more personal, showing up here.
Repeatedly consumers are proudly boasting that they see an item in high street shops and then buy it elsewhere – saving money and often (or even exclusively) purchasing online. It might seem economic suicide not to adopt this model – I mean we all like saving money in these hard times. But for many years I return to the same shop to buy new running shoes. The reason is the service, they know about running, they provide helpful advice and guidance, and by supporting them I am keeping them in business to continue for me and others. I can definitely take all the details of the exact running shoe that I like, and have tried out, and they have taken so long to advise me about, and go home and shop online and save lots of money. But I don’t. And I’m not sure that I agree with those that so obviously do.
It’s not just bad manners. In some ways I feel such people are almost abusing some tacit trade-off between buyer and seller. So while I recognise that companies that don’t change or provide poor service or charge inflated prices don’t deserve to stay in business; I don’t agree with a model that adopts a “view for real and then buy online”. Maybe as a society we truly will get the shops we deserve. As such shops disappear and we don’t have any choice but to shop online maybe there will be a business boom in smaller specialist shops again. And in a final irony, quite often at my favourite running shop, they nip into the back and re-appear with a pair of identical shoes I’ve chosen that are last year’s colours and offer them to me at a big discount.