When walking through some of Britain's high streets, one could be forgiven for feeling like they have stumbled onto the set of another end-of-the-world disaster movie. Whilst some are positively thriving amidst the bustle of January sales, others appear more like an adult's deserted playground. With three shops in administration already this year, are our high-streets finally coming to an end?
HMV is the latest casualty in what seems to be a string of big-chain collapses. We should have seen it coming. The internet phenomenon Amazon practically dominate the entertainment market now, and with prices as cheap as they are, and deliveries as reliable as walking to the shop yourself, this is hardly surprising. In Nottingham, I don't know anyone who'd willingly pay more for a DVD, game or CD in HMV when there are at least three other cheap entertainment shops in the city centre to choose from, and if all else fails the world-wide-web back in the comfort of their own home. Personally, I saw the collapse of HMV as a disappointment - and not only because I was given one of their gift cards for Christmas. I'm one of those old-fashioned sorts who like to mooch around the aisles of shops just to browse what they have, in the hope that I might stumble across an old film or TV show that I'd forgotten about but now eagerly wanted to purchase. Yet it seems that people like me are outnumbered by those customers who willingly shop around for the best price and might see these films, note them down and then work out the best place to buy rather than purchasing on impulse. We are in a society where every penny counts after all.
Retail analysts suggest that the traditional British high street will continue its 'slow death' (Channel 4 news) throughout this year and expect that a significant transformation will take place in the shops we have left. It's widely acknowledged that one major cause of this is the digital age; the accessibility of the internet alongside media applications like iTunes and so on. But one local paper in Cornwall hit on precisely what I believe to be the problem. Us.
We have forgotten the old-age joy of shopping; the browsing through shelves or the habit of renting a new DVD from places like Blockbusters (another 2013 casualty) rather than downloading and sharing a file on laptops.
'This is Cornwall' implored, 'the marketplace is as old as civilisation and we'll always need it.' I agree. The high street offers the perfect chance to get out of your house, meet up with some friends and browse - yet crucially - browse with an intention to buy. I admit, I am one of the guilty majority who succumb to the cheap prices of Amazon. I excuse myself that I am, after all, only a poor student (and an English student at that) who finds herself struggling under the weight of lengthy reading lists, let alone the books themselves - so forgive me if I don't venture out to Waterstones and buy the entire contents of their Literary Theory shelf. Yet for all the books I'm not obliged to buy, I do in all sincerity go to a bookshop to buy them. There is nothing better than the experience of perusing the shelves of a bookstore for the next gem that will have you gripped for days. There is nothing better than looking for nothing in particular and finding your favourite book of the year just waiting for you amongst the modern classics. Furthermore, there is no better delight than actually flicking through the pages of your next book physically before you buy it. Clicking 'add to basket' online after a quick contents page preview doesn't quite match up. But in too many cases, the internet saving of £2 becomes all too strong an attraction and the book one would have perused excitedly in the bookstore remains sadly collecting dust.
As a book-lover, the declaration of one of my friends that 'Waterstones will be next' made me realise that we, the consumers, need to actually do something if we'd still like to have a high street in a few years. The experience of shopping should be placed at a higher value than it currently is. Although we may save a few pounds if we shop online, if it is only a few pounds, can we possible get that little bit of exercise and just go and buy it from a real person in a real life shop?
What on earth will we do when internet shopping completely takes over and there are no shops left.
I am admittedly, one who embraces technology. Yet I also am slightly old-fashioned in the sense that I would hate for the traditional high-street to completely disappear. So take heed of the analysts' warnings and try to purchase more in an actual shop than online; even if only for the small things - it will make a difference.
Let the British high-street not be a memory, and let it be more... let it be great again instead.