Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Roland Barthes, when talking about literature, states that ‘the birth of the reader must be […] the death of the author’, but can the death of the high street be the birth of the shopper? Closing down sales, empty store fronts and franchise take overs greet you when you walk down the high street today, but such closures aren’t all that new to the British public. In the past eleven years we have seen the closure of beloved stores such as Woolworths (2008), Blockbusters (2013), BHS (2016) and Toys’R’Us (2018), but there seems no way to halt shops shutting down.
Staring right down the barrel of the gun pointed at the high street is the internet, a representation of the threat the digital age poses to retail no matter where you live. Although more rural areas are most affected, big cities are also hit as shops shut down and businesses move online. The recent closure of over 70 HMV stores reveals the extent to which the digitisation of music and film surpasses the pleasure of a physical CD/DVD. Major clothing brands are forcing smaller more independent retailers off the the high street and into their metaphorical graves. Every aspect of the high street is under threat from major franchises as they battle it out for territorial dominance; the emergence of numerous Creams Cafes seems inescapable.
Who do we blame? Can we do anything to change it? Has the rise of e-commerce and technology set us on a course we cannot alter? The lack of stock in retail stores is a major inconvenience to the public that’s easily solved by the presence of the internet.
According to a survey, 41% of people are annoyed at staffing within stores and 26% are irritated by queues. Whilst e-commerce and self-service checkouts avoid both issues, it cannot be a blanket solution. Children are brought up in a world controlled by technology, meaning their generation and those that have adapted to the presence of technology have no issue when it comes to online shopping or self-service checkouts, but those far less familiar with it aren’t accounted for. Though it may seem unimaginable, not everyone can use technology as easily as they can count to ten, so it may be an answer for one person, but a problem for the next.
The inconsistency of sizing between stores and brands is a frequent topic of debate and something that causes immense frustration on the high street. A size 12 in one shop is a size 10 in the shop to your right or a size 14 in the shop to your left, making in-store shopping tedious and confusing. Trying on three different sizes and five different styles to find one item is more than enough to deter you from popping into town. However, the same concept applies online; you order various sizes not knowing what will fit, then waste equal time ordering, waiting, trying on, and sending it back. Time and effort is required for both so perhaps this frustration is an ever present issue, no matter where or how you shop.
The accessibility, or inaccessibility, of high street stores is a discouragement shared by many. You can rarely park anywhere without paying, so why not sit in the comfort of your own home where within a few clicks you’ve made your purchase? Parking restrictions permeate every road, and whilst this is frustrating for drivers, there are benefits. One delivery van rather than ten cars of shoppers is a step to less pollution, as is using public transport, removing the resentment Brits have when forced to pay for parking.
Even though the threat of the digital age cannot be ignored and the allure of online shopping is hard to deny, it’s sad to see the high street dying. Shops are deserted, buildings knocked down for housing space, and franchises seemingly monopolise every corner. Businesses are increasingly being swept up by the inviting arms of the internet, making the presence of clothes stores, banks, and physical entertainment shops futile. The digital age is dominating with every day that passes and although the high street will (hopefully) still exist in fifteen years, they’ll have to adhere to their own Darwinism; only the strongest and most desirable will survive leaving the face of the great British high street littered with big name coffee shops, beauty salons, and convenience stores.