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Why the end of the line for our shops is just a few clicks away


HMV called in administrators in January

HMV called in administrators in January


HMV called in administrators in January

No one likes to see an empty shop. It says simply: "Decline." Could be decline in the local area. Could be decline in the wider market.

Could be the decline coming to us all. Decline caused by the internet.

The world is moving into our screens, oozing thither till we sit amid grey ruins staring at all the colour and simulated life through the computer glass.

According to the Centre for Retail Research, one in five shops in England and the Other Bits (also known as the UK) could close by 2018. Grim news, particularly when you consider we're talking about 316,000 jobs.

Reading the mystical Runes of Retail suggests that online shopping will account for a fifth of all shopping by 2018, compared with just over a tenth currently.

It's not all downhill. Presumably, jobs are created online, wherever that is, and in warehouses, where the likes of Amazon employ thousands.

On my mission to this planet, however, I have found that you humans are endlessly adaptable, and the sad sight of a shut shop may require only an adjustment of urban topography to settle you all down.

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Thus, top experts predict that deserted shops in town centres will be made into housing or hotels. Commerce will be restricted to the occasional little corner shop and massive supermarket, for those who still desire immediacy in their purchases. Basically, we're just talking food here.

Last year, the British Retail Consortium found Northern Ireland had the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK, with one in five empty. The number of shoppers waddling forth into the street had dropped sharply.

It's an odd thought. Folk like to spend their earnings. Would they really be happy to do it all online? No trip anywhere. No surprises up an aisle. No fondling of the merchandise. No returning home with bags of booty.

By the same token, online often takes ages to deliver. On Amazon, for example, for various reasons, sometimes you're talking weeks before your items of desire arrive.

In fact, by the time they arrive, often your desire has waned, and you cannot think what possessed you to buy an earlobe-polisher.

It's sometimes fun to buy on eBay but, because sellers are judged partly on packaging, sometimes you need a hammer and chisel to get parcels open. Then you often find there's another parcel within the parcel.

On several occasions, I've damaged dainty contents by having to hack and slice at the packaging.

But, yes, there are benefits to shopping online.

You can drink coffee and eat buns while doing it. Paying is painless, with no surly assistants (admittedly, a rarity, I find) to spoil your experience.

I just find it sad when shops close, particularly when they've played a little part in your life. Latterly, I never bought anything at HMV, but liked to visit it. Oh, the music, the rows of films and CDs that you could always get much cheaper online.

When they were first threatened with closure, I wept hypocritical tears. Now, at least one will remain in Northern Ireland, and, provided prices are more competitive, the lieges might like to make an occasional purchase.

Otherwise, there'll just be another hole where once we used to wander, searching and touching and making small decisions.