Hypocrisy on the high street

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Hypocrisy on the high street

I am reading more and more articles, blogs and tweets about saving the high street, the majority pointing an ominous finger towards the damaging role that national “chain” retailers and shopping malls have on the high street. As an industry reader, the frustrating thing is to see commentators lamenting the loss of the likes of Woolworth and other retail casualties leaving the High Street, or the seemingly inexorable list of retailers that move from high street locations into bespoke shopping mall locations or out of town parks – whilst the moment one of these names makes a bid to open an new store on their high street, there is uproar that cannot be measured. This screams hypocrisy.

We need to drop the view that national (read successful) retailers are bad for small town centres. They do not herald the loss of character, personality or attraction. Neither do they spell the beginning of the end for a picturesque town as so often reported – quite the reverse. They bring professional retailing skills, quality products and services, attract more people to spend their money in the town, and most importantly strengthen its economy with jobs and investment as a result. They CAN live side by side with successful independent retailers – indeed, THIS IS WHAT CONSUMERS WANT.

The UK has many examples of national retailers who have successfully inserted themselves into the local community – small to large. Which small town that you know would not welcome a Marks & Spencer or Waitrose? But Starbucks – heavens forbid!  Where shopping malls have the upper hand is that they have complete control over their shopping environment – from the retail mix to security, rents to marketing. They can actively create the shopping environment and experience that retailers and shoppers crave, and should shape it to meet its changing needs. Meanwhile, town centres are in general a splintered collection of disparate ownerships that are difficult – some say impossible – to control and manage. They desperately need new legislation to unite them – hitherto unseen from the planning system across the last three Governments. Perhaps this is where Mary Portas can help shine a light on a defunct system of town centre guidance that has been raked over three times so far in my own career –  and expect it to be done many more times still. Only a united front will benefit the High Street.

Dan Innes, Managing Director

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