I read with interest Amanda Masters’ article about Guildford, buying Local and how we should avoid Amazon. That’s all well and good in an ideal world, but in my opinion, the real situation is as follows:
First and foremost, the high street is not dying because of internet sales, it’s dying because of punitive business rates and high rentals meaning that unless you’re a very large chain store you simply cannot complete as an independent retailer in the modern high street. If you abolish rates and you might see a revival for a while at least, but there are others forces at work.
The ‘buying local’ thing is all well and good but the fact is that Amazon is fast, efficient, convenient, and they have an unbeatable returns’ policy. No amount of rhetoric will stop people from using Amazon, and it works especially at a time when we are being advised to avoid all types of physical contact and shops are closed. My advice is don’t shun or berate Amazon, embrace it! If you’re a local shop get yourself an online presence and use Amazon as another sales platform. It is first and foremost an online marketplace for independent sellers.
I’d also add that it’s all very well for people in affluent Surrey to extol the virtues of buying local, because they’re in the privileged position of being able to make that choice, but for many, even in Guildford, budgets are tight especially now with many losing their jobs and businesses due to Covid.
People with very little disposable income will naturally seek to get as much as they possibly can for the limited funds they have available, so it’s always going to be Aldi over the local butcher for many, as much as they may want the local butcher to remain. But of course they would never admit that publicly.
We live in a world of change. Even the climate is changing. The high street as we once knew it is on its way out – this is self-evident in Guildford where there are virtually no independents any more, and even the smaller chains are struggling to survive. What this virus has done is to cement and speed up what was already happening. I just think that many are still in self-denial. It’s time for a ‘can’t beat them, then join them’ attitude: it’s time for radical change in the high street.
Do I want to see the high street disappear? No, of course not, no-one does. It’s a real shame like so many things that disappear with progress, but rather than lament its decline and vainly encourage people to shop in a way they don’t and indeed won’t, why not accept things as they are and concentrate on changes in design and planning that will make the high street once more the hub of the town and community, but for different reasons and with different facilities and attractions such as more restaurants, events and activity based businesses. This could happen but Government first needs to re-assess our archaic business rates system which is the underlying cause of most of our high street woes.
Simon is a business owner and entrepreneur based in central Guildford.