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Shopping: End of the High Street? - Tonight

Shopping: End of the High Street? is on ITV Thursday 23rd August at 7:30pm Photo: ITV/Tonight

The online shopping boom said to be laying waste to our High Streets and retail centres.

But are the online giants worthy of blame?

Retail expert Kate Hardcastle visited Burslem - dubbed the empty shop capital of Britain after a recent survey - to speak to a community group that’s trying to breathe new life into the town.

74-year-old June Cartwright, founder of Our Burslem, tells her:

“I think any high street that you go to in any town now, looks exactly the same as Burslem”.

– June

This High Street has been brought to its knees by the decline of the pottery industry for which it was once renowned and by out-of-town shopping centres and supermarkets mainly boasting free parking.

June dreams of a local Wednesday market and limited free parking to revive the fortunes of the town centre. She awaits a decision from the council on her market idea.

But why fight for our High Streets? And what do we lose if some of our High Streets disappear forever?

Professor of Retail Enterprise Cathy Parker fears we’ll lose a lot.

“They’re important economically. But we’ve tended to focus just on that - when they have other purposes. We know people like coming into town, meeting their friends, socialising, eating out.”

– Cathy Parker, Professor of Retail Enterprise
Are our traditional High Street's in trouble? Credit: ITV/Tonight

And some experts believe the likes of Amazon are helping Britain’s shoppers by weeding out under-performers.

Retail analyst Natalie Berg, who has written a book about Amazon, says:

“When we think about the impact of Amazon on the high street, what springs to mind is this image of boarded up shops. But I think Amazon has also been a force for good for the high street in that they've stamped out complacency. In retail today, if you don't differentiate from your rivals; if you're not relevant to your customers you don't stand a chance. This is retail Darwinism, you evolve or die.”

– Natalie Berg, retail analyst

Online provides an obvious alternative to department stores for shoppers, says Natalie.

"Department stores are under a lot of pressure, not only because shoppers are spending less on clothing, but also because if they want to find everything under one roof, they go online where you can find millions of products right at your fingertips."

– Natalie Berg, retail analyst
People often call the decline of our High Street's the "amazon effect" Credit: ITV/Tonight

Perhaps this is where the biggest battle lies.

Reporter Kate Hardcastle visits Debenhams , which has been hit by three profit warnings this year alone. It’s spokesman complains of unfair competition.

Richard Cristofoli explains:

“So if you think a business like ours pays 80 million pounds a year in business rates that funds local services, local infrastructure etcetera. And yet one of our online players, that’s only online, is paying less than a fifth of that on a business that’s twice the size of ours. We are not asking for favourable treatment but just a level playing field.”

– Richard Cristofoli, Debenhams

Debenhams is pinning its future on providing “destination” shopping - to you and me that’s a day out shopping, eating, then perhaps shopping again. Debenhams flagship store, in Stevenage, now boasts four eateries including a Nandos.

And entrepreneur Matt Grech-Smith, of CompetitiveSocialiising.com agrees that shoppers want more than retail therapy nowadays.

His latest venture is a crazy golf course which takes advantage of the empty space that used to be the BHS Department Store on Oxford Street, London.

BHS Store turned crazy golf is one way to tackle the empty space retailers once housed Credit: ITV/Tonight

“I think the High Street has got to be very careful that it moves with the times. Shoppers want to have a really fun day out in these city centre locations. This is the changing face of the High Street.”

– Matt Grech-Smith, CompetitiveSocialiising.com

What is plain is that many famous High Street names are facing a squeeze, including of course House of Fraser, which has just gone bust before being rescued by Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley.

And they may not be the last.

“There are still multiple retailers on our high street that aren’t providing what customers want. And I think we will see a few more big collapses of some of our chains.”

– Professor Parker

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