Last night Intelligence Squared hosted an event in London in conjunction with eBay headlined “The High Street Is Dead, Long Live the High Street“.
The event was well attended with a vast mix of the general public and a interested industry attendees. Apparently it was a sell out on the day it was announced.
The debate was chaired by Jemima Kiss (center), Head of Tech at the Guardian with panalists (left to right) Paul Todd VP eBay, Simon Mottram CEO Rapha cycling & sportswear, Bill Grimsey former CEO of Wickes & Iceland and Ben Hammersley Internet & Tech Journalist.
Paul Todd kicked off saying the High Street won’t survive in it’s current form but will be reborn to meet our need for physical shopping. Simon immediately followed up adding that customers want experiences, not product and the more expensive a purchase the more consumers want a full immersive experience.
Bill Grimsey had many interesting view points, not least of which was to quash the notion that “We want the High Street back the way it once was” with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. He emphatically denies this saying “No you don’t because you don’t shop there any more!” People’s buying habits have changed and they no longer want to trot from butcher to green grocer, they want their babies nappies, washing powder and everything else either from an out of town superstore or more often purchased online and delivered to home.
Bill asserts that councils should have 20+ year plans for town centers/High Streets with 4G/WiFi throughout, artisan crafts, health, entertainment and a library for hot desk remote working – a community hub all joined up with some shops.
There were some interesting comments about the age of the population, Paul Todd points out that 26 year olds…. sorry but you don’t earn enough, it’s the 80 year olds who have the money and we’ve another 20 years of them, however Bill added that it is the 26 year olds who will shape the future.
Ben Hammersley went even further saying the High Street is broken and not fit for purpose. Out of town shopping or home shopping is what people want and he pointed out that all questions asked of the panel were under the predilection that the High Street is for commerce. He asks what are the best use for these places speaking of recreational shopping and insisting that the High Street needs to meet the needs of different groups of people. It should be a community where people live, work and perhaps shop.
What would I like from the High Street?
This all got me thinking about what I’d really like from the high street. Bill Grimsey is right I don’t really want the high street of yesteryear, what I want is inspiration and the ability to shop for things the way I do online. I want to be able to buy anything and everything from a greenhouse to a dvd to a Christmas present for my best friend. I want the inventory from eBay and Amazon added to the type of product I’d only find on Notonthehighstreet or iWoot. I want to be able to point my mobile at a product and buy it and have recommendations of other products I might like to buy pop up and direct me to where I can buy those items too.
Not only that but I don’t want to wander round with a ton of bags all day. I might want the odd product immediately and I should be able to do that similar to Quick Check at Waitrose where I can scan the product and put it straight into my pocket but with payment handled seamlessly, or an assistant on hand to take payment without queuing at a checkout as they do in Apple stores. I want to be able to go for lunch to play with the one gadget I wanted immediately but without a ton of carrier bags and maybe later that evening go to the cinema and finish up with a meal.
At the end of the day I want all my goods to be gathered for collection at an Argos style warehouse with eBay, Amazon, Notonthehighstreet, iWoot plus the normal high street chains plugged into the back. But I don’t want to queue to collect them. I just want a drive through service where at the end of the day I can have the whole lot picked and packed and dropped into the boot of my car when I’m ready to collect them or perhaps the alternative of delivery so that they’re waiting for me when I get home.
That would be my ideal high street of the future.