Yet another headline about a dying town centre in the Mirror today. Doubtless to be followed by more stories of similar towns losing their hearts and discussions on social media about why it is happening. Once again experts will say local shops need to offer experience to compete with online… Enough.
When I moved to Saltaire, visiting local shops WAS the experience. It still is. In these small shops, I can have a conversation, I can get help choosing items and advice about the products. There is no need for the shopkeepers to provide any more than that. I often meet someone I know in a shop too – and we can chat and I feel connected to where I live. There is no need for an event to happen, the experience of real shopping is more than enough. And increasingly unique in a world of vacuum packaging and online delivery.
Now we are being repeatedly told local shops need to offer experience – a vague term and more often one that turns into ‘coffee’, ‘beauty’ or ‘events’. As if otherwise these shops are just like shopping online. They are not. Shopping local is an experience – a real experience that is not about being processed through a system and being reduced from human to data.
Local retailers work ten times as hard to get those pennies and pounds without being asked to sing and dance for us as well. This quest for ‘experience’ means our high streets and town centres change from a mixed ecosystem of retail and service offerings to one that, if not dead, is almost entirely service-led. That’s great when all you want is coffee, a tattoo or a haircut, important as they are, there is more to an economy and community than that. We will miss the experience of shopping local if we lose the other parts of retail that make up our towns and our local economies, that support the makers, the producers and the entrepreneurs – our markets and our local shops give us experiences too – that is why ‘an array of independent shops’ is often placed at the heart of promotional literature for visitors to our towns.
As a kid I grew up dying for school to finish, so I could go to Mr Lee’s sweet shop. His knowledge and range of sweets from cola cubes to pepper sweets was legendary. Older now, I get less sweets but look forward to buying foods from my local greengrocer, fishmonger and butchers – just minutes down the street. I love browsing the fair trade clothing shop From The Source in Skipton and talking to Indi about the health products she sells from India in The Organic Ship, I love the rare finds, the quirky items at Fox and The Magpie or The Butterfly Rooms and the everyday shopping I can get simply by taking a walk. Every time I am in a shop, chatting with the owners, watching them prepare items – I realise this IS experience. It is real, tangible and interactive.
It isn’t lack of experience that is killing the high street, it is a failure to recognise the value of the experience we have and what we are losing. We are experiencing epocalypse. Now more than ever it is #useitorloseit
Haven’t we got enough examples of losing it, to start to change what we are doing?
At ShopAppy.com we are committed to doing everything we can to reverse the decline – it starts with making it easier for people to see what it on their high streets online. It starts with creating a unified shop window as a front against the online onslaught our local shops are facing and making it easier for customers to support local businesses. It starts with collaborating to be the change we want to see. By making small changes in our behaviours we can create happy people and happy places, not to mention a happier planet. These small changes start with you. Join us.