A recent survey and report by the British Retail Consortium has confirmed that the percentage of empty shops in our high streets is running at a national average of 11.3%. This is the highest figure since they began to conduct the regular surveys in July.

The blame has been put by some firmly on the virtual doorstep of the internet and to some extent that may be true. The number of purchases made on the internet is increasing steadily but so is the number of businesses that have a shop front on the internet. A comparatively small company that, stick with me for a moment, makes Wellington boots for Labrador s, can quite easily reach everyone on the planet that has a computer. Whether they have a Labrador that wants Wellington boots is a completely different issue the point is they can reach them.

We have done a little poking around to see how much it costs to get your company on to the internet, selling your goods and services to, well, millions……. potentially. We found a web site, strangely enough, that sold web sites and you can choose from one of a hundred or so templates that will have a shop on the internet for you in a matter of hours. You need to sort out an on-line facility with your credit card payment service provider first, but that’s about it. The cost was £19 per month, plenty of work for you to do initially but it is a route to market. There will be work to be done to ensure that you are featured from as many relevant search results as possible but much of how to do that can be found, you guessed it, on the internet.
Parking was heavily criticised too, it is becoming increasingly difficult to park near our high streets or the parades of shops that serve suburban communities. There does seem to be a flaw in the logic that finds an area that is busy with cars parking outside shops, that then places hefty parking restrictions to stop people parking. Why not improve, if possible the availability of parking near to those shops. This is partly why retail conspiracy theorists are convinced that local authorities are determined to see the demise of the small retailer.

The one thing that wasn’t mentioned was the biggest factor of all, us, the customers. Why are we not going to local shops, local pubs and local engineers? There must be something else going on, is it our busy lives that take us to the superstore on the way home from work to top up with a few items before we go back on our chosen day to do our “big shop”? Sensibly it must be all of these things, if we all decided to spend ten pounds less on the internet a year and ten pounds less in the supermarket and spend that in a local shop what difference would it make? There are roughly 27 million homes in the UK, if every one of those homes directed ten pounds per month at local businesses that would put £270,000,000 per month back into our high streets and the small parades of shops, that is £3,240,000,000 per year.

If we lose our small businesses we lose part of our culture, we lose community and we lose something of the quality of life that engaged us with our neighbours. We will also lose important opportunities for successive generations to develop skills and experience in traditional trades and the knowledge required to run a small business or indeed a department in a larger company.