The battle of online vs High Street shopping has never been more topical, with Mary Portas’ High Street review published today and towns and cities across the country fighting to get Christmas shoppers away from the computer and spending in the shops.
Retail expert and Government advisor Mary Portas has said that the growth of online shopping has left many town centres “dying”, and has made a long list of recommendations for traders and councils to try and regenerate the UK’s High Streets.
Working with both the Plymouth City Centre Company and White River Place shopping centre in St Austell, it certainly hasn’t escaped our notice that retailers are finding it increasingly hard to get shoppers through their doors.
Plymouth City Centre Manager Clint Jones has already been urging shoppers in Plymouth to shop offline (see our previous news release), but as someone who spends a good half of my day sat in front of a computer, I’d be lying if I said I was completely committed to supporting my local town centre.
Shopping online is undeniably easier – you can compare prices at the click of a button to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and browse hundreds of bargains while sat at your desk, no need to brave the rain and wind that’s currently terrorising the South West.
Many retailers that also have an online presence even offer better deals to people who visit their websites rather than their stores, further reinforcing the opinion that you’ll spend less if you shop online.
So what can local towns and cities do to bring shoppers back?
Well for me, Christmas shopping is all about the atmosphere – I want to feel festive, and a bit of gold tinsel draped over my monitor just won’t cut it.
Christmas lights, late-night shopping, Christmas markets, lantern parades, ice skating, Father Christmas – these are the things you can only find by actually getting out of the house and going in to town to shop.
Yes, it’s freezing and I have to don full-on Eskimo wear to even think about going outside in December, but a festive hot chocolate or glass of mulled wine will soon sort that out…
One of Mary Portas’ recommendations is that High Streets should become "multi-functional social as well as shopping areas", which is where the effort towns and shopping centres puts into community events – not just at Christmas, but all year round - pays off.
It’s also a great chance to meet friends and catch up over the aforementioned hot chocolate or mulled wine, which is ever so slightly more sociable than conversing over email or Facebook chat.
There are certain things I will still buy online – for example if I wanted a relatively expensive electronic product, I know I could probably get a better deal – but for cute and quirky Christmas gifts (not to mention fashion inspiration for all the Christmas parties) I’ll definitely be doing my shopping on the High Street.
By going into a shop, you can also count on their expert knowledge and advice, which is probably easier and more reliable than wading through hundreds of reviews on Amazon.
There is also the “use it or lose it” mantra to bear in mind – with one in seven High Street shops vacant and shops across the country shutting at a rate of 20 per day, without the support of local people the demise of local shopping is almost inevitable.
What do you think, is shopping in town too much of a hassle, or the best way to get into the festive spirit? What would make you shut down the computer and venture down to the High Street?
Posted by Natalie - @natblachford