Monday, October 09, 2006

Town Centres - Closing Down?

As the traditional ‘sales transaction’ dramatically changes I cannot help but wonder …. What is the future of the traditional town centre?

In my childhood and until today the town centre has generally been the place where the shops are and where we go to buy things.

As more of my purchasing is now done ‘online’ through the internet I wonder about the implications of all this.

I think to myself – why should I spend money driving to the town centre, pay for the privilege of parking my car, walk in the cold and the rain into shops where the staff are not always the most helpful and give them my money?

The alternative is to sit in warmth and comfort of my home and whenever I find the time in any 24 hour period simply select my goods and pay for them online – usually receiving the goods within a day or two and usually cheaper than I can buy in town centre shops even taking into account delivery charges.

Am I the only person wondering about this massive shift of power to the customer?

My own view of the town centre of the future is not a place we go to shop. It therefore offers planners some ‘blue sky opportunities’ for those creative people to ‘re-imagine’ town centres and turn them into places where local people and visitors actually WANT to go to enjoy either learning or cultural opportunities.

Nice to just take time to contemplate things sometimes ….

Maybe I will re-visit this posting in the 20 years and report what a town centre looks like in 2026. Any suggestions?.....


David Wike said...

On-line or face-to-face? Like you Trevor I do buy on-line, but I tend to restrict it to things like printer cartridges, books and CDs. For many purchases, I want to be able to examine what it is I’m buying before making my purchase decision. Of course, like many others, I have been guilty of ‘checking out’ something in a shop, then buying it on-line.

Even the ‘weekly shop’ no longer requires a visit to an actual shop. The order is placed on-line and then delivered by the local supermarket, in our case Tesco. But like many people we have ‘re-discovered’ the local butcher etc. and come to realise how second-rate is some of the food supplied by supermarkets. I believe that the local specialist suppliers will continue to survive and maybe even prosper as the love affair with the supermarket fades in some respects.

Now I am no longer on the corporate treadmill I can go shopping whenever I please. I am astonished to find how busy are our towns and cities whatever day of the week I visit. Which suggests to me that ‘going to the shops’ is as much a social event as a focussed shopping activity. The growth of the various coffee outlets seems to support this view that people go to town to meet up and chat with friends as much as they do to shop. So while the types of shops may well continue to change, I suspect that the town centres will still be as lively when you next visit in 2026!

Trevor Gay said...

Hi David

As you can imagine I rarely visit the hairdresser – no comments please. A couple of years ago around this time of the year the young lady who cuts my hair said she finished her Christmas shopping. She had done it all online without leaving her house. Sounds good to me!

Yes you are right the range of things on the internet may be limited at present (although it isn’t actually) and most of us I guess buy CD’s books etc., like you. However I do see a day when more than those goods will be purchased regularly and I think that is great.

Love affair with supermarkets? – Well the love affair has lasted getting on for 50 years so it is a long affair! I only see supermarkets getting bigger and widening their range of goods.

I think the ‘new’ town centre will be vibrant but different. I am going to Norwich next week and I am told the whole city centre has wireless access wherever you are – this is a sign of the times and the town centre of the future will be a place to visit rather than a place to shop in my opinion.

David Wike said...

Christmas shopping on the Internet – a warning!

A couple of years back my son did all of his Christmas shopping on-line, and was especially pleased that there was a gift-wrapping service. Unfortunately he had ordered CDs for most people … and one wrapped CD looks pretty much like the next! So he had to unwrap them all to find out which was which!!

Trevor Gay said...

Great advice David ….

Sounds a bit like the Irish Mum who sent through the post, her son’s best blazer that he had forgotten to take with him when he left home in Dublin to live in England.

She said in her letter to her son ‘In order to save money on the postage I cut off the brass button … you will find them in the inside pocket’