Another mall, another high street closure – is there really anything to worry about?

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By Professor Isabelle Szmigin, Professor of Marketing
Department of Marketing, University of Birmingham


While high street retailers will continue to battle their online competition, out-of-town malls, business rates and expensive car parking, they still have their fate in their own hands.

We’re already seeing the high street take a big hit in 2018, with Toys R Us going into administration, Carpet Right issuing a profit warning as well as a number of stores and restaurants, including Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo and New Look, closing some of their outlets.

Commentators have highlighted many factors that may have contributed to the downturn, including over expansion, the fall in the pound, a shift to online shopping, and squeezed incomes. Some have also suggested, wisely in my opinion, that we just have too many shops.

March 2018 saw the opening of a £600m extension to London’s White City mega-mall, Westfield. The shopping centre is now officially Europe’s largest and offers an eclectic mix of high-end names, such as Prada and Gucci, alongside budget fashion brand Primark and mid-range stalwarts John Lewis and House of Fraser. It’s therefore no wonder that after the Easter break the news for the high street is grimmer than usual, with the number of high street shoppers on Good Friday down by 9.6% compared to last year and down by 13.9% by noon on Monday. It is always dangerous to read too much into holiday figures as additional elements, such as the exceptionally cold and wet Easter, must be factored in.

What fascinates me is that the idea of the ‘death of the high street’ will somehow undermine our communal psyche, much the same as the idea that young people will never talk to one another other than via social media. Perhaps the most dramatic metaphor was recently used by Financial Times writer Brooke Masters, who referred to the newly-expanded Westfield as ‘the Death Star of malls — pulling shoppers from all over London into its orbit and wreaking destruction on its rivals and high streets. Who would ever go anywhere else?’

It just so happens that I was a visitor at both the Westfield in White City and my local high street this weekend and what struck me was that they were very different places offering very different experiences. While Westfield is dazzling in its variety of shops and experiences, it is also confusing, frustrating and very easy to get lost in. In addition, one of the new stores where we intended to shop didn’t have the full range of products as advertised on the website, so we left empty handed.

On the other hand, my high street, while also frustrating (for example, thinking I could have lunch in an independent café only to be told I needed to book – no worries, there was a Pret a Manger on the corner), was still busy and vibrant with a food market. It also offered a great experience in an independent carpet shop with an assistant who couldn’t do enough for us.

While high street retailers will continue to battle their online competition, out-of-town malls, business rates and expensive car parking, they still have their fate in their own hands. I would predict that while high streets will look different, they haven’t succumbed to the Death Star.


2 thoughts on “Another mall, another high street closure – is there really anything to worry about?”

  1. I am not surprised by the ‘death of the High Street’ now it is so much easier to shop online. One large retail chain I visited this week told me I would have to order online because they don’t stock petite items (or any other specialist range) in store. I now have to make a second trip to the store to collect my purchase, try it on and queue up again for a refund if it doesn’t fit because I had to pay for it there and then if I wanted them to order it in! I could have paid £3.95 for delivery but still would have to go to a delivery point or back to the store if I needed to return it. Why would I do all that when I could have just ordered online in the first place and have it delivered for free by an e-tailer? It’s a shame for local independent shops but I too believe they will survive if they continue to differentiate on customer service. The large high street chains appear to have already given up, with skeleton staff and poor stock, perhaps they don’t deserve to survive

  2. Thank you for your comment. I found it very interesting as one of the things that high street stores need to be doing is making things easier for customers, not more difficult. As you say everything in this example inconvenienced you more and added to your costs. I think that in this case some high street retailers are just holding less stock in store as a cost saving measure – but it doesn’t help the customer.

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