Is the digital evolution endangering our highstreets and our happiness?
Shopping isn’t what it used to be, when we decide we want a new item of clothing or an all-inclusive holiday, we have endless choices. Venturing out onto the high-street to find these things is for many, becoming an unnecessary hassle. Why fight the crowds and the weather and the parking costs in order to get the best deal, when you can do it with your feet up in front of the TV?
When M&S announced several regional store closures this week, Barbara Ellen from the Observer commented:
“The (M&S) closures were part of a reaction to the pressures facing all retailers, relating to the seismic changes in shopping habits, notably the vastly increased public preference for shopping online.”
Barbara, like myself, agrees that significant store closures of well-loved brands like M&S, will have much bigger implications for us than just a boarded up shop front on our local high-street.
“It’s more about how certain retailers are such familiar entities that they become almost as emotional as they are commercial – near institutions in the community.”
Of course, just because a shop physically closes on the high-street, it doesn’t mean customers can’t venture to the next nearest outlet to find what they’re looking for, or indeed buy that item online. However, it could mean that our personal association and connection with a brand becomes that little bit weaker and more distant. Can brands retain their presence of mind if they’re physical presence is in decline?
Last year the Daily Mail reported that living near a supermarket could boost the value of your home by £22,000, and unsurprisingly the ‘Waitrose effect’ was estimated to add £40,000 to the value of nearby property, according to a study from Lloyds Bank. Incidentally M&S was estimated to add £27,000 to the value of property in the surrounding area.
I’m currently saving for my first property at the moment, and as Kirsty and Phil would say it’s all about ‘location location location’. It stands to reason that if you’re investing a huge amount of time and effort in saving for a house, you want to be in a neighbourhood that you like. For many, that entails a high-street which has good amenities; a decent pub / restaurant, some nice shops – not row upon row of empty shop windows and vacant spaces.
The rationale for this isn’t just about wanting to spend money in the local community, it’s also about wanting to spend quality time in the community. Coffee mornings with mum, a clothes splurge with a friend, a last minute flower purchase for a special occasion, a bottle of fizz to take to a party – all the things we need and love to do…offline.
The correlation between our happiness and our dependency on the digital world is well known and well reported on. The Telegraph long ago (2012) reported research from Ofcom which found that text messaging was the most popular way for British adults to communicate on a daily basis, outweighing our interaction face to face. The Independent also reported widespread issues amongst teenagers, who are feeling pressure to be available online 24/7, presenting their lives in a certain way leading to eating disorders, insomnia and depression.
Shopping (even if it’s just window shopping) is an experience, it’s a chance to get out of the house and interact with real people, as well as clearly having wider benefits for the prosperity and attractiveness of a local community. Shopping online will always have a convenience and an ease that high-streets struggle to compete with, but if we forget the shops on our doorstep altogether, we could be risking more than just empty windows. We could be in danger of losing our ability to interact, to have time away from our screens and to be present and active in the places in which we live.
A balance of the two worlds would ensure convenience doesn’t overrule personal wellbeing and that British high-streets can continue to thrive.
Senior Account Manager