UK riots: The death of the high street?
Posted 10 August 2011 - 11:19am by Craig McGlashan
Calm was restored to London last night, including in my home borough of Camden, where the extra police presence was clear to see (I basically had my own five-man police team guarding my street).
Most voices are in agreement that the swell of numbers of bobbies on the beat was enough to quell any further looting, although to my mind it must also be considered that most of the looters were now either in jail or too busy playing with their new Playstations on their brand new 42-inch plasma televisions to go out to steal more. After all, who goes shopping on Boxing Day? Boxing Day shopping is about bargains and they’ve already had all the bargains they’re going to find.
There is more than enough being written about the causes of the riots and I’m not going to go into any of that here. What is of interest is a conversation I had this morning about how the riots might affect the thinking of the worst-hit businesses.
Mobile phone shops, video game outlets, electronic goods centres; all were badly affected and will have made considerable losses, even if they are insured up to the teeth. This comes at a time when more and more people are looking to the internet to supply their goods, be it via delivery or download.
Might a lasting effect of the riots be to quicken this move to the digital world? The likes of Sony, O2 et al may well be considering a switch to how they do business in the UK. If situations like those seen across the UK over the last few nights are repeated, then businesses are going to be far more reluctant to stock expensive items in high numbers in shops that can never be fully guarded against the mob.
Instead, high street shops may well look to keep very low levels of stock; enough for customers to try out a computer game, or fiddle about with the latest smartphone, but they will then leave their name and address and wait for the delivery at home. Certainly with regards to music the case is even stronger, as albums can be downloaded quicker than it takes to make a trip to the shop and stand in a queue.
Taking things further, could clothes shops opt to keep a small selection of stock for customers to try on before they receive their actual items via delivery?
In the case of actual physical goods, it is perhaps unlikely; we will probably remain a “must have now” culture for some time and people will be against having to wait for a delivery. But certainly in the case of music, film, video games and anything else that can be delivered digitally, the end of the high street may well be nigh.
Of course, none of this means much for the small business owners and independent shopkeepers who were also targeted, apparently for being “rich”, according to some rioters who were interviewed by the BBC. Their business model wouldn’t work with deliveries and it is unclear how they can ever feel safe again.
Perhaps that’s why one online retail outlet, Amazon, saw baseball bat sales in the UK surge by 5,000%, according to reports. This may not be a sign of the emerging dominance of online, to be fair, but of the fact that UK sports shops generally only sell hoodies and tracksuits, not sports equipment.