HIGH NOON ON THE UK HIGH STREET

In this week’s [retail bytes] we’re looking at all of the challenges that our dwindling high streets have to face – and boy, are there a lot of them!

Not on the high street In 1694, England became the second country, after Sweden, to introduce banknotes and history repeats itself as we’re following the Swedes in getting rid of cash. Jerry Maguire’s favourite phrase, ‘Show me the money’, will sound quaint very soon with UK coins and banknotes nearing their use-by date. In 2014 UK shoppers used electronic payments more than 50% of the time, and cash now accounts for less than 7% of the economy (3% in Sweden so we have a way to go yet). We’ve moved £2.9 billion a week using mobile banking apps in 2015, marking a significant rise from £2 billion in 2014.

The British Banking Association reported the rapid growth in mobile banking, noting a 6% drop of in-branch transactions in 2014. Barclays alone granted more than 33% of personal loans over the Internet without the need for a branch visit. As bank visits are responsible for a large number of high street appointments, we need to face the fact that the closure of hundreds of unnecessary branches would lead to a noticeable drop in footfall. Landlords, run for the hills.

Prime time Even more pressure on our high streets is coming from the increasingly aggressive Amazon Prime promotions, with the Prime Day attack on 17th July resulting in a surge of customers queuing up for Jeff Bezos’ cheapo online bargains. Many people were tempted by seemingly generous deals and subscribed to the “free next day delivery service” (for £79 a year) on the spot. With detailed personal recommendations based on your past purchases, as well as easy payment and convenient shipping, Amazon did not have to persuade people too much to garner sales. An analysis of Twitter, however, shows that buyers’ remorse was high and the Amazon Prime ‘refund line’ was red hot for the following few days. But thousands of newbie “Primers” loved it and are fast disappearing into the Amazon vortex, never to return to the high street again.

Less whine more wine A new entrant in the online grocery shopping-verse is Lidl, who are rolling out their “claret offensive” to get the less price-sensitive middle-class shoppers to hit their keyboards and partake in Lidl’s seductive, Dionysian Internet offerings. Since the online grocery market will reach £17 billion by 2019, the German discounters do not want to be left behind and have turned to their famed predictive analytics to assess our appetite for a case of Beaujolais Nouveau! It’s not all bad news though, as Lidl also exports over £30 million of British cheese to European shops, more than any other UK grocer, keeping the makers of Cheshire Blue and Dorset Stilton in business. Good luck Lidl with the e-comms offensive, I bet it’ll be an impressive one!

We never liked people, anyway! Minecraft’s online game has gone mainstream and now has a virtual pizzeria, so it’s only a matter of time until we abandon all physical gatherings in the search for the next virtual restaurant on the Minecraft high street. You can download Iconomy and create your own multiplayer store for others to visit and pay you for your labour of love. Denmark has even released its own virtual presence on Minecraft and Oxford Street is set to join the fun and appear in all its virtual glory. MineCoins anyone?

Wild Wild West Mobile banking apps, Amazon Prime, online discounters and virtual shopping in Minecraft are all contributing to the death of the high street. June’s footfall dropped fast, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reporting a 2.4% fall, following an already steep 1.8% decrease in shopper numbers in May. Wales was particularly affected, with a fall of over 5.3% in shopping centre visitors. The UK as a whole has seen the high street decline by 2.8%, which is really a last minute message for George Osborne to reform the UK’s outdated business rates, as our embattled shop owners are increasingly unable to cope with the rapid shift to online shopping whilst paying the highest shop tax in Europe. Without reform, and with the high rents demanded by landlords, we need to be prepared for the so-called omni-channel retail of today being just a last stop on the journey to Internet-only shopping. Prepare for the comprehensive surrender of the high street by about 2022. Will we be living in abandoned wild west ghost towns by then?