Thursday, 28 April 2016

Are Shops Getting Too Big?

As another long standing British High Street store is under threat while people complain that the High Streets are dying, I wonder if it is because too many stores are trying to please everyone.

Shops that were once mere grocery stores now sell everything from clothes to electrical goods. I’ve bought a television in Morrisons. Now Sainbury’s are selling clothes. While I like the idea of not having to go to the butchers, bakers, greengrocers, fishmonger and delicatessen to buy my weekly groceries, I don’t want to be lured into buying other things at the same time. If I want new clothes, I will go to a clothes shop. If I want new shoes I will go to a shoe shop. If I need a new TV I will look in Curry’s or Argos. These are the shops that used to be on the High Street. If they are not there now it’s because people aren’t using them.

I was watching people being interviewed in the street after the announcement that BHS had gone into administration. Most people seemed sad but there were also comments like “I can never find anything I like.” Well, maybe you are looking in the wrong shop or you are too fussy. I rarely come out of BHS without at least one thing I didn’t go in for.

And that brings me to the point that major stores are trying to be everything to everyone in their search for customers. It doesn’t happen. I recently went into a large M&S on a retail park, the first time I had gone to an M&S since the small store closed in my local town. I felt overwhelmed. It was so big, so many things from which to choose, it was almost impossible to find anything because there was too much choice.

The fact is young people wear different clothes to older people. Quite possibly people in the North have different needs to people in the South (I’m thinking weatherwise here. It’s much colder the further north you go from London). By trying to entice younger people into a shop that caters for older customers you alienate those older people, without necessarily getting the younger ones who consider it a shop for oldies. Likewise, you won’t get older people looking in shops for youngsters. Trying to cater for everyone is costly and a gamble.

This massive shop I was in didn’t have any more cash points than my local BHS, and wasn’t as busy as the now defunct M&S, so despite its size I’m not sure it is doing any better. Maybe it was the time and the day, I don’t know. I hope for their sake it does get busier. In such a large store I expected to see two or three points to pay for your goods, but there was only one with only about four or five tills, and no long queues.

And then there is the cost of providing all those items in multiple stores. I know there is supposed to be economy in bulk buying, but if you end up buying too much as a retailer, what happens to all the things that haven’t been sold at the end of the season. Are they binned? Donated to charity? Sold on to market retailers?

Tesco learned to its cost that having too many choices does not always work. Giving the customer choice is one thing. Giving the customer five types of the same thing is something else entirely. So no doubt the smaller producers will lose out to the big brands because they are no longer wanted.

Internet shopping is being blamed for the demise of many stores, and in some respects this may be true. It is easy to find things on the internet, especially unusual things. I spent all of one Saturday afternoon trawling through my local shops looking for something very specific and couldn’t find it anywhere. Got home and went on the net and found it within minutes, if not seconds. But there has always been an alternative to buying clothes in shops. I bet there isn’t a home in the UK at least that didn’t at some point subscribe to a catalogue store like Kays or Freemans. That was the internet of the past, where you could get an endless choice in multiple sizes all delivered to your door. Such catalogues still exist, possibly even more, plus they have an online presence, too.

So are we heading for a completely shop-free world. Do we even need to go out to the shops? Personally I’d be happy not to but I’m weird that way. But to keep shops going people need to use them. It’s no good saying ‘it’s a shame’ when a shop closes if you haven’t supported it on a regular basis. Shops are there to sell things, not look pretty and fill a space. A small shop cannot give the same choice as a massive store on a retail park. It is not possible to cater for every taste in one place, so BHS, M&S, HM, and all the other retailers, make up your minds who your customers are and try to please them. Not an easy task, I know.


Where will I shop? Well, I’ve probably got enough clothing to last the next twenty years and I’m happy to wear the same thing year in, year out, so I’m not really bothered. I’d just like to put my winter stuff away and wear something light and only have one layer instead of three!

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