2018 continues to be a hard time for UK retailers. Footfall, in general, is down 6% from 2017, and almost 9% down in our high streets.
Sales of clothing, apart from the budget stores such as Primark, are down by 20%.
My two local high streets – one rich, one poor – both look as if they’re situated in ghost towns with almost every other shop bearing a “For Sale” sign.
Toys R Us, BHS and Maplin have gone, and we hear of closures from Mothercare, Homebase, House of Fraser and even some branches of M&S.
1,700 shops shut down last year alone.
Paula Nickolds of John Lewis said recently that this is her “toughest time in 25 years in the industry”, adding of her own business, “We need to reinvent”.
Even allowing for last winter’s dreadful weather – the Beast from the East – and this summer’s seemingly never-ending heatwave, the underlying reason is no secret.
Instead of new shops, we are seeing an increasing number of little white vans on our roads delivering purchases made online to almost every home in the country.
High streets have been under assault since the mid-1980s when the government caved in to lobbying from supermarkets to allow them to build hypermarkets outside of our towns.
Hypermarkets are sprawled across the country at a high cost to our town centres. No one thought long-term, or if they did, they didn’t care. Now, even these hypermarkets are under pressure and are closing.
It wasn’t that long ago that we mourned the death of the corner shop because of the massive explosion in the number of out-of-town shopping centres. But while we all agreed on how sad it was to see these convenience stores close, did we do anything about it? No, of course we didn’t. Rather than support our local traders, we flocked to the new shopping centres like sheep.
The rise of online shopping is clearly the cause of the demise of our high streets, and yet once again we will continue to shop online and, at the same time, weep crocodile tears for our corner shops and high streets.
Robots are now able to fulfil orders from warehouses, and soon drones and driverless vans will bring them to our doors, putting thousands of retail jobs at risk.
High-street footfall is shrinking by 10% year on year and will soon simply vanish.
THE COST TO OUR SOCIETY
But our shops and high streets are a part of our communities; places where people can meet and communicate with each other – something that we, as a society, are increasingly failing to do.
And, of course, it’s not just the shops and high streets that are being affected.
An average of 18 pubs are shutting down each week, according to research by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). This is largely due to a change in our drinking habits as the cost of an evening spent in the pub has skyrocketed over recent years. Rising business rates (which have also struck retailers on the high street) combined with VAT have put landlords under more strain than they can withstand.
Our churches too, once a centre of village and town life, are shutting their doors. Somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year, and thousands more could be closed down for most of the year under new plans being considered by the Church of England.
The Church says the old parish system may no longer be sustainable, as congregation numbers dwindle; indeed, Sunday worshippers are in single figures in many areas.
If we are not careful, we will all become very lonely and isolated – living our lives online instead of interacting with people.