Shopping: Why the High Street is Falling Apart, in Numbers

In early February, the town of Ashford made an unusual demand – open a Primark. 

It’s not a new request. Groups on Facebook have been asking the Irish company to put roots down in the town for at least 15 years, as concerns about the state of Ashford’s high street grew. After a recent survey, Local MP Damian Green found that almost half of the respondents (49%) continued to avoid the town centre because there’s nowhere to shop.

This kind of thing is happening up and down the UK, and the high street’s terminal decline may be something we have to deal with.

Referring to the nation’s collective complaints about vanishing stores, The Guardian spoke of “crocodile tears”. We’re not exactly queueing up to visit shopping centres when buying online is much easier, faster, and cheaper.

Like our ancient markets, though, many of which have either been abandoned or demolished, we’re eager to hold on to something from when people shopped face-to-face.

“Shopping with Benefits”

The solution to all this strife has been elusive. A study commissioned by the cashback site RetailMeNot seemed to stress that deals and promotions made a difference to shoppers’ willingness to part with their cash. People were 80% more likely to try a new store if they found an offer, such as a money-off voucher. 

Source: Pexels.

While this study referred specifically to online shoppers, discounts became an expectation for British consumers during winter 2022. Among the 18-24 age bracket, 42% of people surveyed by Havas Media Group reported that they would seek out deals. Ironically, this didn’t extend to Black Friday, which has slumped in popularity since the 2010s. 

This type of ‘shopping with benefits’ exists because of the crowded e-commerce space. In certain parts of the internet, the number of competitors vying for the same group of customers means that review sites serve an essential purpose. This might conjure up imagery of car insurance, bank loans, and other competitive markets but gaming also benefits from independent voices.

The CasinoStake website offers insights into brands like Stake.com, a site football fans will know as the sponsor of Everton FC. The Stake bonus, which includes an Acca Boost, is compared against rival companies so that gamers can find a site that suits their interests.

The obvious question to ask now is, can a deal economy work on the high street, too? Unfortunately, the answer is probably ‘no’.

“Reason to Exist”

Tom Athron, CEO of Fortnum & Mason, encapsulated the plight of the city-centre store in a conversation with the Financial Times. The food store has to work hard to have a “reason to exist”. The reality is that only certain kinds of businesses survive in brick-and-mortar fashion in the new decade – and promotions won’t make any difference. 

Source: Pexels.

Discount stores, factory outlets, and other cut-price shops have always been a part of the high street but they haven’t survived the influence of the internet either. Only service providers, like hairdressers, restaurants, and fast-food outlets, have some resistance to closure. It’s also these that could benefit from shoppers’ fascination with promotions. 

Five years ago, the Guardian reported that the high street shrinks by a tenth every year. It’s a slow but determined demise, one that has just taken some Marks & Spencer away from us, too. The good news is that many stricken stores find a place online, likely due to an already-engaged customer base. 

Sadly, for anybody with aspirations on a high street store, that time may have gone.

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