Like dominos collapsing into the void, high street shops are failing one by one and in rapid succession.
Tumbleweed blows briskly past boarded-up shop windows as former business owners hold signs reading, “Will dance like a monkey for money” and everyone whistles Ghost Town by The Specials in an unemployable choir of misery.
Or so the media would have you believe.
Indeed, it’s easy to make sharp contrasts between evil, moustache-twirling giants like Amazon and honest-to-god shopkeepers from some bygone era – but the reality isn’t quite so monochrome.
Let’s travel to London, for instance, and look at the state of retail in this bustling capital.
Coupled with online and food sales, London is the shopping capital of the world, raking in £64.15 billion in 2010. And, despite hiccups in the industry since, interest has never dramatically waned.
The capital has its problems outside of business – a rise in the cost of living, housing crises for the poor, a yawning gulf between the upper and lower crusts of society – but retail has continued to thrive.
A shop to let in London also doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Even in fashionable districts, sites like Shop Property can offer reasonably sized premises for under £10,000 per annum.
Media guff and sensationalist headlines have barked the notion of the failing high street for so long that even practical solutions have been overshadowed by fear.
Beat the net – by getting smaller
Take Chris Grigg, chief executive of British Land, which owns a large number of freeholds for Debenhams, B&Q and Homebase, as well as the Meadowhall Centre in Sheffield.
Speaking to national newspaper the Independent, Grigg outlined a positive vision for the future – provided shops can change to cope with competing markets.
The retail mogul began by citing a quarter of property as “technically obsolete”, stating a need for smaller and more versatile spaces that can compete with the internet for customer experience.
Because, ultimately, that’s what the battle between the net and traditional retail outlets comes down to – quality.
Find your shop’s soul
The ability to sit in your pants and order your favourite DVDs from Amazon is still a novelty, but does it have the same level of soul as a shop?
Comedian Stewart Lee reminisced on the benefits of the humble shop, telling national newspaper the Guardian, “I used to imagine that I was friends with people in record shops and bookshops because I would go in and talk to them – even in HMV.
“It used to have a really big jazz department and the guys who worked there obviously really liked the music and you could interact with people.”
Those halcyon days when shops were communal spaces, the staff were your friends and the hard sell was couched in a warm and knowledgeable atmosphere – it’s why coffee shops are thriving and retail outlets are diminishing.
Whether you’re setting up a business in London or anywhere else, the keys to success are the same. With a small, communal atmosphere, retail outlets won’t hear coming like a ghost town for a long while yet.