Of the internet, supermarkets, clone towns and home towns

December 21, 2006

I think we really need to understand more about the effect of internet shopping on the high street. supermarkets and out of town developments can no longer be considered the only pressure on traditional shopping areas – even the chains such as Waterstones and HMV are feeling the pinch where they are reliant on passing trade.

Read this article from the Guardian 21/12/6

Interesting that one of the reasons advanced by HMV for the lack of trade is a lessening of ‘footfall’.

If the core businesses of High Street shops are undermined by internet shopping (besides the out of town chanins) in mass markets such as food, household products and possibly clothes (?)- in other areas such as books and DVDs it may be the ability of the internet to supply niche products (conveniently and at cheaper prices) that also serves to remove sources of value from the High Street. Whereas supermarkets disadvantage people who don’t have cars, the internet only disadvantages those who don’t have access to the web or don’t know how to use a computer. This has implications for the considering people’s access to goods and services that are different to those considered in the case of out of town shopping developments.

In any case, it makes sense that the ‘good high streets’ often (though certainly not exclusively) seem to exist in affluent areas (see the NEF’s Clone Towns Survey where the London ‘home towns’ category representing high street diversity included Ruislip, Upton Park, Highgate, West Hampsted, Kentish Town, Brick Lane,Bethnal Green, Deptford and Shepherd’s Bush). Where incomes are higher retail outfits can sell highly value added specialist services or offer a retail ‘shopping experience’ that justifies higher prices. In poorer areas the same economic trends may produces fast food takeaways which are also high in added value but considered ‘bad’, perhaps because they sell to a less affluent market who prefers to shop for core products in cheaper supermarkets.

This is not to say that good policy cannot achieve a lot across the vast range of suburban town centres which cater to people from all income brackets. Obviously, accessibility to nearby goods and services for all sections of the population is what traditional high streets provide best and in this respect policy makers should take active steps to encourage more economic diversity.

Having said this, it is possible that the same socio-economic process that sustains ‘home towns’ may also create ‘clone towns’ in less advantaged settings. The difference is that where there is plenty of disposable income, it is much easier for independent traders to diversify into areas where the supermarkets, chains and interweb find it harder to compete. The overall tendency may be for some ‘home town’ areas like Highgate to become widely known as ‘nice shopping centres’ thereby serving a larger market that the local community. In this sense, successful suburban town centres in affluent areas may become an *additional* downward pressure on smaller centres in the polycentric model.

In thinking about what makes for successful suburban town centres we could use a ‘control’ for the ranges of products and services that shops offer ‘staple’, ‘luxury’ that means successful areas (necessarily ‘doing well’ in the first place) are credited for how morphological and socio-economic factors sustain accessibility and facilitate a sense of place. We do not wish to credit them again simply for being affluent.


2 Responses to “Of the internet, supermarkets, clone towns and home towns”

  1. mukih Says:

    “Whereas supermarkets disadvantage people who don’t have cars, the Internet only disadvantages those who don’t have access to the web or don’t know how to use a computer.” … or credit cards.
    It is also important to note that only 60% of UK households have access to the Internet. We need to find more details about our specific suburbs. This can be done through the E-Society Geodemographic profile and Point-Topic Broadband surveys which can tell us more about our case.

    More generally, we need to be careful not to fall to the trap that successful is only things that are ‘nice’ in our eyes. We need to be very open about the definition of successful and therefore question assumptions about the advantage of major retailers over local take aways.

  2. ozlemsahbaz Says:

    Diversity (as we discussed before) and Dynamism of retail could be something to think about.

    By diversity we mean a range of prices, quality, differences in service method. By dynamism I mean How long a vacant spot waits for being taken over and what is the direction of change in goods/services provided? Is it reflecting the diversity/change in the life styles of people (in the town or the surrounding towns)?

    Thinking in terms of diversity and dynamism would also eliminate the danger of (subjectively) prefering major retailers over local small speciality shops( or vice versa).

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