The typical UK high street is changing. Some analysts have been arguing for some time that high streets are dying, with shops unable to face the competition from large supermarkets and out-of-town malls. But it’s not all bad news for the high street: while some types of shop are disappearing, others are growing in number.
Part of the reason for this is the rise in online shopping; part is the longer-term effects of the recession. One consequence of this has been a shift in demand from large supermarkets (see the blog, Supermarket wars: a pricing race to the bottom). Many people are using local shops more, especially the deep discounters, but also the convenience stores of the big supermarket chains, such as Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local. Increasingly such stores are opening in shops and pubs that have closed down. As The Guardian article states:
The major supermarket chains are racing to open high street outlets as shoppers move away from the big weekly trek to out-of-town supermarkets to buying little, local and often.
Some types of shop are disappearing, such as video rental stores, photographic stores and travel agents. But other types of businesses are on the increase. In addition to convenience stores, these include cafés, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and takeaways; betting shops, gyms, hairdressers, phone shops and tattoo parlours. It seems that people are increasingly seeing their high streets as social places.
Then, reflecting the widening gap between rich and poor and the general desire of people to make their money go further, there has been a phenomenal rise in charity shops and discount stores, such as Poundland and Poundworld.
So what is the explanation? Part of it is a change in tastes and fashions, often reflecting changes in technology, such as the rise in the Internet, digital media, digital photography and smart phones. Part of it is a reflection of changes in incomes and income distribution. Part of it is a rise in highly competitive businesses, which challenge the previous incumbents.
But despite the health of some high streets, many others continue to struggle and the total number of high street stores across the UK is still declining.
What is clear is that the high street is likely to see many more changes. Some may die altogether, but others are likely to thrive if new businesses are sufficiently attracted to them or existing ones adapt to the changing market.
How the rise of tattoo parlours shows changing face of Britain’s high streets The Guardian, Zoe Wood and Sarah Butler (7/10/14)
The changing face of the British High Street: Tattoo parlours and convenience stores up, but video rental shops and travel agents down Mail Online, Dan Bloom (8/10/14)
High Street footfall struggles in August Fresh Business Thinking, Jonathan Davies (15/9/14)
Ghost town Britain: Internet shopping boom sees 16 high street stores close every day Mail Online, Sean Poulter (8/10/14)
- Which of the types of high street store are likely to have a high income elasticity of demand? How will this affect their future?
- What factors other than the types of shops and other businesses affect the viability of high streets?
- What advice would you give your local council if it was keen for high streets in its area to thrive?
- Why are many large superstores suffering a decline in sales? Are these causes likely to be temporary or long term?
- How are technological developments affecting high street sales?
- What significant changes in tastes/fashions are affecting the high street?
- Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of high streets? Explain.
For those looking to buy larger electrical appliances at cheaper prices, things might be looking up, as Comet have begun heavy discounting after entering administration. Deloitte, as the administrator, will now begin the search for a buyer for this retailer, while Comet aims to raise the funds to rescue the company.
Comet was bought by OpCapita last year, but with poor performance continuing across the 200+ stores, we could be about to see the demise of this retailer. Over 6,000 jobs are now at risk, although Deloitte has maintained that stores will continue to trade and that redundancies will not be made. One of the administrators said:
‘Our immediate priorities are to stabilise the business, fully assess its financial position, and begin an urgent process to seek a suitable buyer which would also preserve jobs.’
The retail environment has inevitably suffered over the past few years, with well-known companies such as Woolworths, Optical Express and JJB Sports (to name a few) entering administration. Comet, therefore seems to be the latest in a long line of sad trading stories. So, which factors have contributed towards the collapse of this giant retailer?
Over the past few years, online retailers have gained a larger and larger market share. These internet retailers do not have the same overhead costs that Comet and other high street retailers face. To open a store in an area where customers are in high supply, premium rents must be paid and this adds to the cost of running any given store. In order to cover these higher costs, higher prices can result and this, together with consumers facing tight budgets, has led many customers to look at the cheaper alternatives online. Deloitte has also said that Comet has been suffering from a lack of credit, which has meant that it has not been able to purchase stock in the run-up to Christmas. Deloitte commented that:
‘The inability to obtain supplier credit for the peak Christmas trading period means that the company had no realistic prospect of raising further capital to build up sufficient stock to allow it to continue trading.’
Concerned customers are naturally emerging, wondering whether items they have ordered and paid for will actually turn up. However, Deloitte’s reassurance that trading will continue may go some way to relieving their concern. The following articles consider how Comet has fallen from the sky.
Comet officially enters administration, stores re-open for expected firesale The Telegraph, Graham Ruddick and Helia Ebrahimi (2/11/12)
Comet calls in Deloitte as administrators BBC News (2/11/12)
Apple sky-high as Comet falls to earth The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet enters administration, Deloitte seeks buyer Reuters (2/11/12)
Comet electricals administrators formally begin search for saviour The Guardian, Zoe Wood (2/11/12)
Comet goes into administration Financial Times, Andrea Felsted (3/11/12)
Comet collapse: Deloitte blames internet and lack of first-time home buyers The Telegraph(2/11/12)
Collapse of Comet puts 7000 jobs in danger Independent, James Thompson (2/11/12)
- Why does the retail environment remain very weak?
- Explain why Deloitte suggest that a lack of first time home buyers has played a part in the demise of Comet.
- Why has a lack of credit contributed towards Comet’s downfall?
- Should customers be concerned about how Comet’s demise (if indeed a buyer is not found) might affect prices in other retailers such as Currys, given that they will now have a larger share of the market?
- Why has online trading contributed towards the harsher retail environment for the high street stores? You should think about fixed and variable costs in your answer.
- Why are companies such as Apple doing so well relative to other companies, such as Comet and JJB Sports? Is there a secret to their success?
- What impact might this collapse have on local labour markets, given Comet employs so many people? Think about the effect on wages, unemployment and on claimants of benefits.