Online shopping is killing our high street: Fashion North investigates a once thriving shopping destination

As online shopping becomes more and more popular, our British high streets are dying.

Fashion North investigates the decline of Stockton high street, a once highly popular shopping destination.  

Online shopping has been on the rise for many years, however, it now provides us with the sad reality that our high streets aren’t the most favoured way to shop anymore. With popularised technology, it seems that shopping from our computers or smartphones is now the way forward.

It was predicted earlier this year, by the Centre for Retail Research, that 2018 will be the worst year for retail since the recession of Woolworths in 2008. The CRR collected information and it seems their predictions were correct:

“In the first 100 days of 2018, 18 large and medium-sized retail companies collapsed into administration involving almost as many stores and certainly more jobs (13,500) than in the whole of 2017.” (CRR)

Stockton, in Teesside, is one of Britain’s high streets that has seen a huge decline in the previous year. Wellington Square, in the town centre has seen a loss of more than four stores, and several stores are rumoured to be closing down.

In the past year, the square has seen a loss of large retailers including Lidl, Topshop, and Marks & Spencer, and it has also seen smaller independent businesses fail to continue trading.

Along with the store closures, New Look is rumoured to be closing, as well as the Stockton Debenhams branch being at a threat, after the announcement of 50 store closures of department store

Stockton Town Centre in 1959- a thriving town. Photo Credit- Tony Whelan

So why are our high streets failing?

The changing ways of retail have led many shoppers to focus their shopping efforts to online, leaving high street stores suffering for sales.

Research states that in 2000, high streets were responsible for 50 per cent of all retail spending. This has now dropped to 36.6 per cent.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the percentage of internet sales has risen from 9.3 per cent in 2012 to 16.3 per cent in 2017.

And online sales as a total of all retailing increased to 18.0 per cent from the 17.7 per cent reported in September 2018, with textile, clothing and footwear stores continuing a record proportion of online sales at 18.2 per cent; this was despite a fall in total retail spending in this sector.

This creates pressures for Britain’s remaining high streets as they need to provide reasons for people to visit towns for reasons other than shopping.

Stockton is a town which is well known for its aim to regenerate the town and its continuous efforts to bring people to the high street.


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Three big reasons to visit #Stockton Town Centre today #Chic_Vintique, #DangerTree #Market

A post shared by Stockton Borough Council (@stocktoncouncil) on

Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North said: “There is no doubt that we need bold plans to change the way we run our high streets.  They need to be destinations in their own right for leisure as well as shopping and Stockton Council is an example of best practice with many events ranging from the International Riverside Festival to specialist markets drawing people in.  Securing the Great North Games with international athletes competing in the high street is another excellent example of giving the town centre a new focus and purpose. We need more of the same whilst ensuring we create an environment for our independent shops to thrive.”

The Great North Games are set to come to Stockton in 2019. Along with the regeneration programme of the Globe Theatre, set to re-open in Spring 2020.

Retail specialist, Bill Grimsey, of The Vanishing High Street, recently visited Stockton and gave us his verdict.

“There’s not much that can be done, when M&S say they’re closing, when New Look say they’re closing and when Debenhams say they’re closing. The only thing that they can do is look at what they can do with the land.

“They can put more commercial units in and see what other units can be used for, for the longer term of the town.

“People will go places if towns are featuring their history and their heritage and Stockton does that.”

Photo credit- Betty Longbottom

With the announcement of Debenhams store closures across the UK, it’s a worry for many high streets as the company are yet to announce the stores set to close.

A female Debenhams retail worker (who would like to remain anonymous) gave us her opinion on the proposed store closures.

“It would be such a shame for the store to close with it being open for so long. I have made some lifelong friends and hope it remains open. It would be a shame for the high street for it to close as there will be no main shops in town as such anymore. I’ve worked there for over 18 years and love working there.”

In a local government journal, Neil Schneider, chief executive of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, spoke about the importance of regenerating the town, the vision the council wanted and the challenges faced and also how they wanted to bring people to the high street for more than just shopping.

In the report, he said: “In short, we wanted to create a town centre that people might choose to visit for reasons other than just shopping, especially as there’s a very successful retail park jam-packed with big names just ten minutes away.

“There have been challenges too. I think the biggest is the fact that this major investment, this period of unprecedented change, has coincided with what some have called ‘a retail apocalypse’, which means we’ve had to stay strong in the face of doubters.

“Whether we like it or not, people generally still equate a town centre’s success with the number of big-name shops it has, so naturally, we’ve had criticisms along the lines ‘all that money spent on the town centre yet the shops are closing’.

“Our response to that has been to point out that we saw all this coming, and it’s precisely why we’ve been shifting the town’s emphasis away from shops and towards our growing events and leisure offer.

“It’s a tough message but that’s the harsh reality, and I think the fact that so many big names are disappearing from high streets across the country and that they’re clearly not coming back means it’s a message that’s starting to sink in.”

Should high streets rely on branded stores to stay alive or do you think regenerating for reasons other than shopping is the better option?

Let us know your thoughts @Fashion_North


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