The Full English – Just who the hell does the high street cater to?

What’s piqued my interest this week?

I was having an interesting chat this week about the high street with a colleague. We were trying to work out why we would actually go into the town centre. There’s a continuous roll-call in the press of ailing high street chains, the most recent HMV, while Debenhams looks wobbly (1, 2). As an aside I’m intrigued to see where Mike Ashley is dragging all these fallen chains. Some collective Brit-megastore in China?

We came up with the following four things we would actually bother going into town for:

  • an activity – e.g. a bar, an escape room, a haircut, etc
  • inspiration for an item – e.g. Waterstones for a book, John Lewis for a gift, etc
  • items needed NOW – e.g. running around like a blue-arsed fly for a dress shirt
  • items not available online – e.g. local produce from a market, packaging-free items like the avocado-smashing millennial wanker I am

I guess that’s what brand and PR people chat about when stating people want experiences. Most home or clothing goods now gets ordered online as it’s quicker, usually cheaper and I don’t have to deal with the rigmarole of parking/ avoiding mouth-breathers. The bars in our town seem to be doing alright, and there’s restaurants and stores offering activities like VR gaming and a chance to sit-in and touch that chintzy MG Rover (Roewe) springing up left, right and centre. So are town centres becoming more experiential?

Well let’s not forget that the concept of a High Street or shopping centre is pretty modern  in civilisation terms. Prior to the 17th century you had taverns, inns and pubs, and a town market a few times a week, but otherwise you had to go to a specific place to seek out a vendor for your chosen items. Leather workers near tanneries etc. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the true growth of the High Street as a destination to be seen to be shopping (3). The money and riches of the empire fuelled the golden age in the 19th century (4). The start of the downturn came with out-of-town shopping. Prices have been driven down, and quality is now following. Online shopping has undoubtedly taken the wind from the High Street’s sails, but I think it’s overblown. Mail order was around before online shopping. Online is more convenient and offers greater choice than any bricks-and-mortar retailer could, but catalogues have long-offered variety when the High Street couldn’t.

I look forward to a smaller city centre full of things to do, and smaller shops selling local produce not cheap garms for tuppence from Bangladesh. I spoke to MrsShrink about this, and she massively disagrees. She loves shopping, or more specifically she loves rifling through sale-racks looking for discounted items trying to find things her life is incomplete without. So maybe there’s life in the old dog yet.

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Side Orders

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (now affiliate links):

Tombland – C.J. Sansom – I love the Shardlake series, detective novels set in the Tudor period with a crippled lead character. Beautifully written.

Starting with Chickens – Kate Thear – A hint to a goal for 2019

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day



3 thoughts on “The Full English – Just who the hell does the high street cater to?

  1. Shoes 😉 I made the mistake of buying some over t’internet, worked fine the last time, but this time there was a teeny bit of pressure which over time made me think ‘Self, you’re rich enough not to put up with shoes that make your feet ache after five miles’. So I buy them in shops, and am happy to suck up the extra cost.

    You’re a guy. You don’t need the High Street, you don’t use CDs any more, it’s Spotify, and Netflix, and online for your games, Amazon & Ebay for your books and stuff.

    The distaff side, however, I suspect is keeping what’s left of the high street alive, as well as reading most of the books keeping publishing alive. I wouldn’t sound the death knell yet, but it has to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have to say I disagree on the clothes/ shoes front Ermine; the main high street stores don’t stock shoes to fit me. Clarke’s can FRO as it stops at 11. If I want decent work shoes it’s M&S, House of Fraser (sometimes) or online only. It’s not even like my size twelves are outrageous:
      Consequently I spend much of my time on the high street getting unreasonably grumpy.
      I still like a good book shop, purely because I like to browse for ideas and there’s an extra sensory component.

      Ultimately I agree though, the high street isn’t going to win targeting spendthrifts with eccentric hobbies like myself.


  2. I’m with you (rather than Mrs Shrink) on the future of the High St. Anything that can be done to encourage community more generally is a good things. If experiences and services on the High St encourage that then I’m all for it.

    The big question for me is whether town centres are able to reinvent themselves quickly enough. Equally whether retailers can reinvent themselves for today’s world. I think that we’re going to see more household names going to the wall over the coming year.

    Liked by 1 person

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