Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Our high streets will be virtually empty if we keep shopping online

Let's face it, for many products, the last place you'd do your shopping is a shop.

For CDs, DVDs, and books in particular, the idea of making your selections from the limited choice on offer in a physical location became absurd. And that's before we consider downloads, e-books and so virtually forth.

The news about HMV appointing an administrator is truly tragic. The staff in there have always been pleasant and one got the impression they loved helping people with music and films. Fine job, in some ways, if not overly well paid.

If the shops do close - and there's still some hope that they won't - then anyone who worked in them loyally over a period of time should be snapped up by another employer.

It's just another sign ("Retail unit for sale") that our high streets and malls are changing. The supermarkets will survive. Perishable goods are still best bought by hand, though these too will be delivered as we get older and more housebound.

In future, the ever present retro brigade could create a market for small, niche shops selling CDs, DVDs, LPs and books.

Physical browsing can still be fun, though the trend currently is to finger the goods then go online and check how much cheaper you can order them there. I remember doing that in Comet. It's closed now, of course.

Department stores are another physical source of shopper joy, and the best of these is John Lewis. However, if you're still desperately hoping for one at Sprucefield, don't get over-excited.

For a start, Environment Minister Alex Attwood has indicated the area will be reserved for retailers of "bulky goods only". How odd. I'd no idea the obesity crisis had spread to consumer goods too.

However, I've this news to bring you anyway: John Lewis ain't what it used to be. Yup, let me be first with the backlash.

Once, I thought JL would be the first thing you saw in Heaven. Now I'm not so sure. True, there's still much to savour. The whole idea of a department store, with its opulent Edwardian echoes, remains a big, shiny thrill.

At John Lewis, something clever in the lighting makes us all look better. You won't believe this but, once, I modelled a suit for them. I think it was a magazine's idea of a joke, and I still wince at overhearing the female fitters agree that I was a "peculiar shape".

But that was then. I remain a peculiar shape, but JL has changed too. It started with the recession. More toffs started going downmarket from wherever they shop normally and patronised JL.

Consequently, the stores began stocking loads of clothes by Barbour, label of the aspirational bourgeoisie. I can't abide its shapeless padded habiliments nor its self-conscious associations with the fox-mangling lobby and other rural freaks.

Worse than that, the prices seem to have risen exponentially, no doubt because the frequent positive headlines make the need to turn a profit more manic.

Thus John Lewis. Nothing stays good for ever. Nothing remains the same. 'Tis the way of Jehovah the Merciless.

However, the thought of having neither HMV nor John Lewis is dispiriting. I like shopping online as much as the next person.

But, sometimes, you must mingle with your fellow shoppers, feel the goods and go home that very day with something in a bag.

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