I was walking down a street in central London the other day, one I know well, and started wondering what had happened to it.
In the past, in the not entirely distant past, there would have been shops along here I might actually have wanted to go inside. And now there weren't, because they'd closed and moved on. More to the point they'd been replaced by businesses I wasn't particularly interested in, but which were obviously doing well.
And I wondered - what's disappearing, and what's taking its place?
What's disappearing are shops that sell stuff people could have delivered instead. Why trek out to a shopping centre with a wide choice of things to buy when there's an online retailer with a much wider choice of things to buy online?
» Shops never have the clothes you want in your size.
» Books fit through your letterbox really easily.
» Your grocery order might as well be bagged by somebody else.
» Why buy one film when you can stream thousands?
» Those shoes you fancy could be here tomorrow.
» Music isn't physical any more, grandad.
» Why go down the takeaway when they can come to you?
» You don't need to touch it to know what gadget you want.
Of course there are downsides to online purchases. You can't see the actual thing before you buy it. You have to wait, maybe days, for your thing to arrive. You have to waste your life waiting in for the delivery (or you have to make your way to a collection point which might take as long as going shopping would have taken in the first place). Delivery often costs extra. If it doesn't fit, or isn't what you wanted, sending it back is a proper hassle. When things go wrong, website communication and automated phone lines are never fun. But enough people prefer online purchase to physical shopping that high streets are now in serious trouble.
If you feel the need to tell us about your own personal high street/online shopping habits, here's a comments box for that.comments All other comments - the more generalised kind - in the box below, thanks.
So, looking ahead, which high street businesses are most likely to survive the online onslaught?
I'd say two types - the time-dependent, and the physical experience.
» You can't afford to wait for a delivery slot for milk.
» Meet your mates over coffee and a pastry for a nice cosy natter.
» What you need right now is a can of Red Bull and a pack of chewing gum.
» Your hair needs to be cut, and/or your nails painted, by an expert.
» That gym down the road has an excellent set of equipment.
» Wahey, gin-based pop-up Insta-opportunity!
Which may be why that central London street was now mostly food and drink opportunities. A cafe, a restaurant, an exotic takeaway, a coffee shop, a bar, another takeaway, another restaurant. These are things lots of people enjoy, great places to eat and drink and socialise, creating environments they just don't get at home. But they're not selling 'stuff', they're selling an excuse to meet up in pleasant circumstances, and maybe that's the future.
To put a bit of factual background into this, here are the types of shop along the parade in an ordinary London suburb. This is Bromley Road in Downham, an interwar overspill estate at the southern tip of Lewisham.
salon & spa
cash and carry