Retail is undergoing significant changes and none of us can ignore the effects. It touches all of us. We are all consumers. We can see change happening just by walking down the street and seeing the shuttered shops.
Nearly one in ten of us works for, or is, a retailer. More than 50,000 retail jobs are going or have gone from big stores this year alone. Some have forecast that nearly a million jobs will be lost in the next few years.
We can’t miss the headlines either. Well-known chains and department stores are crashing into administration or closing swathes of high street stores.
Small shops are in the thick of this. There are twice as many independent high street businesses as chain stores. They are vital to the health of our town centres. Many are finding it difficult, some too difficult, to stay in business.
We all know the problems. Shops lie empty, increasingly expensive parking in towns drives shoppers to choose retail parks, business rate bills weigh disproportionately heavily on high street retailers while online-only operators have far lower costs – and pay far less in tax.
Then there’s time-honoured necessities such as high street banks and convenient ATMs closing down and competition from online shopping.
If we don’t act then we know that these problems will get worse – and we will all feel the impact.
There is much that can be done to free the high street from the burdens imposed by tax, parking and planning policy. There is much that can be done to enable our towns to reimagine and repurpose themselves for a future, which is less about shopping and is more and more about leisure and experience and community.
There is much that can be done to help retailers and their staff develop and apply new skills for a digital future.
There are problems to solve and it will take central government, councils, businesses – and consumers - to solve them. There is cause for hope. Even in these difficult circumstances the small business community is opening tens of thousands of shops every year, on high streets and online. If those burdens can be reduced and opportunities provided, then small businesses can help give our high streets a new and exciting future.
Listen to the podcast