Like-for-like retail sales monitored by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) present a mixed picture. The figures for Easter 2009 were, somewhat surprisingly, higher than many retailers and pundits predicted. Easter was very late (or, last year, too early), unusually sunny (or previously, too cold and wet). Even longer-term economic forecasts from organisations such as the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) can be erratic. In the past two months, NIESR have predicted first, the worst economic recession in 30 years, and more recently its end. However, before we all reach for the waste bin to retrieve those pieces of our cut-up credit cards, we need perhaps to treat all these figures with some degree of caution. And any collective sign of relief from the retail sector would seem somewhat premature.
Is it up to our shopkeepers to entice you and me back to the high street?
At a town hall meeting in the ‘Save our Shops’ programme, Mary Portas admonished the good shop keepers of the English market town of Tewkesbury for not doing enough – it was up to them, she said, to save the high street. For the good of Tewkesbury, they must work together more creatively. With the closure of the towns destination Marks and Spencer store, visitor numbers were in terminal decline. The bakery was closing and those stalwart few who remained loyal to the high street seemed reluctant to consume. So, is it up to our shopkeepers to entice you and me back to the high street?
After all, what did you last buy from your local high street? The Mary Portas’ programme provides a timely reminder of the twin challenges faced by British town centre retailers. Glossy out of town shopping centres and the endless expanse of the internet have lured many of us away. These are seductive alternatives. No rush to get back to the car, no British weather, just the effortless worship of conspicuous consumption in these cathedrals of consumption. In 2007, the wholesale and retail sector accounted for 11% of the United Kingdom economy's gross value add. What we buy, as well as how and where we shop, is a significant part of our cultural identity.