As part of one of the thought processes that has been bubbling through my mind in recent weeks I found myself at VanishingHighStreet.com late last week. It is a site established by Bill Grimsey , who has had very long career in all incarnations of the retail sector. He has very, very recently published a document called The Grimsey Review in response to the 2011 report on the High Street commissioned by the Government from Mary Portas. The document is free to download from the site. The report is independent – neither commissioned or funded by anyone else other than Bill Grimsey and the small team around him. He has also written a book called Sold Out which focuses on the development of the shopping experience in the UK over the years since the late 1940’s. On the basis of the Grimsey Review, I bought the book – online and in ebook format (makes the point about how times have changed!).
The book is very frank about how the large retailers, financiers AND consumers have all come together to create the current shopping experience we have today – with all its risks, problems, conveniences and the implications these have for the community and town centres.
The theme running through the book is that ever since he’s been in retail – five decades there has been accelerating change – mainly due to the creation and application of digital technology. But there have been changes in other ways too, customer service has come and (according to him) gone again, town centres were supplanted by small malls and small out of town centres and now those are being supplanted by the supermall (can’t believe he didn’t mention the Metro Centre which was in being over 20 yrs ago if not more) and the shoptainment complex which doubtless will give way to something else in time. One thing he was sure of though, was that the High Street as it used to be is not coming back and its pointless trying to turn the clock back. This is the stall that he sets out at the beginning of the book and the theme he returns to int he closing chapters. Much of the book is uncomfortable and challenging to read – no punches are pulled in describing the behaviour of financiers, retailers and even the consumer.
What he does make clear, however, that he believes that there is no going back to thinking that old solutions to encourage footfall will work- too much has changed for everyone. Indeed, I chuckled early in the book when I found that he’d written almost word for word, certain thoughts that had been recently going through my head.
He ends the book by calling for more ‘blue sky’ thinking in how we view town centres, high streets and ultimately the future of our communities. He’s really calling for us to accept that everything changes but change itself.