It really isn’t their stealth shopping that bothers me, it’s the way these retail refuseniks look down their noses at anyone who does want to hit the stores. They ridiculed those who queued outside Primark as soon as it re-opened following lockdown (Primark online shopping does not exist), and continue to sneer at anyone who fancies snapping up bargains in the sales and I’m sure they’re not lacking in shadenfreude over the troubles currently besetting Intu, the British real estate investment trust, which manages shopping centres like Bluewater and the Trafford Centre.
Intu had been hit hard by the Coronavirus and it’s heading for administration which is another blow not just for the high street but for those people who look like losing their jobs. It has implications not just for the 3,000 people it employs, but also the 132,000 suppliers and providers who will no doubt have to slash jobs, or worse still, close down.
And now with news that John Lewis is set to close stores and shed jobs, high street retail is in much need of life-support.
There were 2.9 million people employed in retail in 2019 with the total value of UK retail sales at £394 billion last year but we already know that 2020 has been a disaster for some sectors of the retail industry, especially fashion.
The Covid 19 lockdown means that many have ditched the ‘shopping near me’ ethos for google shopping and any have got used buying online but the consequences of this could be irreversible.
Can you imagine what the high street will be like without our boutiques and gift shops? ‘If you buy, do it from the independents,’ has been one message and that’s a well-intentioned rallying cry – but how many of us really do? When was the last time you bought a dress, a jacket or a pair of jeans from a small local retailer? And of course local shops employ local people – but in what numbers? It’s the bigger retailers that give their staff a chance to make a decent living, maybe rise up the ladder into management (generally not the small independently-owned businesses, but I’m sure there are some exceptions) they foster careers. The truth is, we need both independent local retailers and the big name stores to make our high streets vibrant and exciting.
Shopping is not just about consumerism, it’s about admiring beautiful things, it’s about dreaming of owning a Roksanda dress or a pair of Louboutins. It’s about heading out with a bit of money in your pocket not knowing what you’ll find and being able to check out it’s quality and how it feels before you spend.
Fashion Editor Janet Reeder champions the high street.
It is also totally social. The market place of old wasn’t just an opportunity to make a transaction, it was where people met up, exchanged gossip, forged relationships. My mother said her gran’s antidote to depression was ‘if you feel like that get your shopping bag on your arm and go out’ – OK we have more sophisticated ways of dealing with mental illness now but, I know that when I feel a bit sad or on edge, a look around the shops will take my mind off things.
Shopping with a friend or merely the interaction with sales staff can feel good. For some people that interaction is all they get all day. They can feel part of something. That group of women who shop at Zara or M&S, or the blokes who enjoy a browse around Fopp or Carhart (and vice versa), well, they’re a tribe.
What shops are offering more and more, as do restaurants, is the ‘experience’. It’s about theatre, it’s entertainment and maybe that’s why some of the older brands are just falling by the wayside. Like a corpsing comic, they’re just not entertaining enough.
Another thing that worries me about the demise of shopping is the way it affects people in other countries. Really, really poor people who depend upon the 10p or whatever they get per garment to feed their families. God in a great, fair world, people wouldn’t be exploited but they are, and guess who suffers when we get moral about these things? The poorest of the poor. Just look at the way Philip Green’s Arcadia has ghosted factories in Bangladesh who now can’t pay their workers and who are facing closure? We are not buying from his shops, which include Wallis, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge, but we did once. We may not like Green but as consumers we can put pressure on him and others like him for better conditions for workers and more eco-friendly ways of making stuff, but if we opt out we can’t.
I love shopping. There are people who see it as a necessary evil and others who hate it, but I say there are more reasons we should do it than there are not. The main one is, it’s fun. So I’m off. See you on the high street!