The High Street Is Dead, Long Live the High Street

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Long Live The High StreetLast 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.

12 Responses

  1. What do I want from the High Street? The same as before, however the things that put me off shopping there is further back than the current state of the high street. It’s a large part of the reason that the high street is in the way it is:
    Namely the cost of getting there (extortonate bus fares for those without a Senior pass) and if you go by car, the cost of parking or the time limits enforced on any free parking.

    The ideas outlined are very good, but to get people back to enjoy these “experiences” access to the hight streets needs to be easy and as low cost as possible.

  2. I hope you will forgive me but have’t we heard all of this before. Way back in the 1960’s on the TV was a programme called ‘Tomorrows World’. Almost every one of these ideas, or earlier versions of these ideas, would have been on that programme all those years ago.

    Some of the ideas back then have come true subsequently. Some have appeared and in their turn been swept away and some have just disappeared without trace.

    The fact is the same with these ideas in the article. Some High Streets will totally disappear and my bets are that many of them will be places where the last Bank closes its doors. Those that manage to retain their Banks and have a sympathetic Local Council and supportive local population stand a chance of survival. Obviously if they also embrace new technology and developments then even better.

    But there just is not enough room or indeed spending power for everything to survive. As Darwin said its survival of the fittest and many High Streets for whatever reason are just not fit.

    By the way I am just about to leave for my local High Street(in Truro)

  3. What I want is to touch and feel and see and evaluate. The last thing I need in the High st is the ability to purchase on a tiny screen- I can do that sat on the sofa at home. The key thing is how is the High Street going to offer me value over an online purchase?…I will pay a premium for good service, if you can prove it to me – don’t give me a piece of paper promises!

  4. what I want from the high st
    is a day out , human company, atmosphere, and to see or want something I did not know I needed or wanted,
    if I know I want or need it ,I simply buy it on line and have it delivered

  5. I used to love shopping on the high street especially for clothes and accessories, virtual shopping cannot and will not ever be the same as buying goods in person.

    However, as technology and our lifestyles have evolved I do see the benefits of shopping on line. I do not think it is the internet alone that has killed the high street, high rents and rates have a large impact on SMEs, as others have said above the cost of parking, or lack of in towns, the convenience of large shopping centers such as Bluewater and Lakeside in the last 20 years were the start of seeing the high street suffering more severe competition, and these large shopping centers were built a couple of years before the internet even evolved.

    I think the question here is what has the high street done to evolve itself, what has local councils and governments done to assist struggling retailers, and what have we the public done to support them. The average high street today is full of coffee shops, hairdressers, charity shops and estate agents, even banks are closing their doors as we choose the conveninece of banking on line.

    The only chance it has of survival is to offer a selection of goods and services, local councils and landlords to evaluate realistic rents and rates, retailers to be more inventive with councils limiting the amount of coffee shops and restaurants opening up, and finally offering us something that we the Public will make the effort to go and buy. If all that can be achieved it will be a miracle.

  6. I would truly love to visit the local high street in my area, but I simply will not pay the extortionate rates for parking.

    Where I live it is a complete rip-off.

  7. One major problem I see with the High St. is many shops are empty. Rents are sky high. Many shops on the high St are owned and rented out by investment companies. In Scotland you can go on the rates assessor’s website and see who owns a commercial property. Many are owned and managed by large companies. However there is light at the end of the tunnel. Many are being sold off or auctioned(due to the commercial rental market slump). Being bought by private individuals or small companies. So hopefully the high st. rents will fall or new shops will open up.

    investment companies are holding the high street back and stopping it from evolving.

  8. I like your ideal High Street dream Chris but I am not sure you would like the cost of providing it added to your shopping basket!
    However I could see this being trialled in a large shopping centre for example where the Mall management could co-ordinate but it will require some innovative thinking and there are real costs involved in providing this level of service.
    For those High Streets that still provide cheap and plentiful parking it simply won’t be viable as I can simply walk back to the car with my purchases as and when needed.
    If you are using a Park & Ride scheme it would be interesting to trial such a scheme where you reduce traffic into a town but a major pay-off for the inconvenience is that your purchases can be collected on leaving the parking site.
    It would be great to see some real market based innovation in this area that tries to help retail shop businesses.


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