The High Street Decline Continues But Slightly More Slowly

jessops07:25 Tuesday 24th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: A new study out today shows retailers closed an average of eighteen town centre shops a day during the first half of the year. Photography shops, video libraries and travel agents were amongst the biggest losers, although charity shops, bookies and payday lenders helped pick up some of the slack. Tony Bonsignore from our Business Unit’s here. Morning Tony.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ve talked about this many times, but when I read that out there, photography shops, video libraries and travel agents, I thought yes, we’ve moved on. It’s a rejigging of the high street. We don’t use those things any more, do we?
TONY BONSIGNORE: Yes, I think that’s right to an extent. I think in terms of the types of shops that are suffering most, I think there’s two things going on here. One is the fact that they are being hit still by this squeeze on household finances. Consumer spending is still under an enormous amount of pressure. But to an extent I think there’s another thing going on here, and I think you’re exactly right. I mean, photography shops .. we saw Jessops go under earlier in the year, didn’t we?
PAUL STAINTON: When was the last time you went to a shop to get some photographs sorted out?

TONY BONSIGNORE: Yes. Well I actually went about a months ago actually, but I was getting some big pictures blown up. But everybody else does it digitally, does it online now, and we order photo albums online and the like. And video libraries, when was the last time you used a video library? That used to be an integral part of my life, was going to the video library.
PAUL STAINTON: You press a button. You press a button and go “click” don’t you? And they come.
TONY BONSIGNORE: Yes. And that’s it. And travel agents as well, I mean again. I’ve just organised a holiday and I did it all online. Whereas ten years ago, fifteen years ago, I would have gone to the travel agent. I think that’s fundamental to this whole argument about the high street. I think a lot of retailers would say, look, it’s all about the state of the economy. And other people would go, look, you’ve just got to move with the times. Unfortunately people aren’t buying stuff down on our high streets in the same way that they were maybe a few years ago.
PAUL STAINTON: The problem is though, these shops are being replaced, not by different retail outlets, are they? They’re being replaced by charity shops, bookies and payday lenders.
TONY BONSIGNORE: Yes. It’s fascinating. And on it goes. Again, it could be a bit of a wake up call this, because we’ve been hearing about all this good news on the economy, and the fact that things are turning around, but still it’s charity stores opening, still it’s bookmakers. I’m not quite sure what that says about the state of the economy and the different way we use high streets. Cheque cashing firms, pawnbrokers, payday lenders. And also the one that fascinates me, coffee shops. Coffee shops are flourishing on our high streets. I think it all adds up to a very very different visit to the high street, again, compared to ten or fifteen years ago. And we go, we use the different things. We certainly don’t shop in a big way. But we do at least take time to sit down and read the paper, and have a cup of coffee.
PAUL STAINTON: No wonder about the coffee shops though. The profit in a cup of coffee. We were talking about that yesterday. Eight pence the coffee costs. The cup’s the dearest thing. It’s amazing the cost of a cup of coffee. But it doesn’t bode well, does it, for the make up of our high street in the future, if all we’ve got is a coffee shop, a pawnbroker and some bookmakers.
TONY BONSIGNORE: No. And leaders in the retail sector, they are arguing about this in a big way. There are some people saying we just need to completely re-conceive the way our high streets should be, and what people are going to our high streets for. Perhaps there needs to be more flats and houses in our high streets. Perhaps there needs to be .. you know there used to be community centres where the elderly and other people can converge and use them for other reasons. Let me say this. This is all pretty pacifistic here. There is the tiniest tiniest bit of cause for optimism here. The rate of decline, the number of shops closing, has eased a little bit. It was twenty shops a day on average in the first half of last year. Now its eighteen. OK, so it’s not much .. (LAUGHS) .. it’s not much of an improvement, but things are getting ever so slightly better. Or another way of looking at it, they’re not quite as bad as they were just a year ago.
PAUL STAINTON: We’ll take any crumbs of comfort Tony. Any crumbs of comfort.