The downsides of no high street

Diane Hall

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Empty high street

There are so many benefits that come with shopping online: 

  • the convenience—you can order from your armchair without going out into what could be terrible weather

  • it’s a lifesaver for people with mobility issues and disabilities, with items delivered directly to their door

  • it’s quick—you can often get your items the next day

  • it has everything you could ever want—there’s the whole internet full of things to choose from


When the choice of buying online or in bricks and mortar shops was taken away during the various lockdowns of 2020, Amazon and other e-commerce outlets ensured we still received our goods whenever we needed them. 


The rise of Amazon has been swift and it’s fair to say that it is now ingrained in our lives. With our diminishing attention spans, it’s easier to order something from our phones as and when it pops into our brain than getting up from our seat, finding a pen and paper to write it down before we forget, then planning when we can travel into town to buy it from an offline retailer.


There’s a lot been written by experts concerned about the perpetual demise of our high streets. They claim that, whilst the speed at which shops are disappearing may have been hastened by the coronavirus pandemic, it is not the main cause; the shift in consumer behaviours was always going to happen following the advent of the internet. They blame online retailers for driving independents from our town centres.


I don’t know if I would want to lose my local high street. I like to shop there, though I think it needs overhauling to make it an ‘enjoyable experience’. Finding shelter for the numerous homeless in empty doorways, expanding the range of shops so that the national chains don’t dominate the high street, having nice cafes and coffee shops to grab a bite whilst I’m hitting the shops…things like that. I’m sure my high street is no different to many across the UK.


Another reason for not wanting to get rid of offline retailers is that there are downsides to online shopping. They may be small and insignificant now, but if online was all we had, I’m sure these issues would be magnified. I’m also sure that it wouldn’t take long before we’d be clamouring for our high streets again.


Not being able to see/touch what you’re ordering


I’ve dropped a few mistakes when ordering online, when it comes to sizing. I ordered a laptop case for my daughter just a couple of weeks ago and tried to guess the measurements of her model (she had it with her at the time of ordering). Yes, I could have waited until she got home, made an excuse as to why I had to see her laptop, but the whole point of online ordering is that it’s convenient, right? 

It’s difficult to perceive size when buying something on screen, even if the dimensions are stated, and, on this occasion, I got it wrong. When it came, I could tell with one look that it was far too big. Had I seen the same product in a shop, I would have known this. It was personalised, too, which meant I couldn’t send it back even if I wanted to.


Getting your delivery


Not something I experience regularly; however, I am a member of various local community groups on Facebook and it seems that–especially at this time of year—every third post says, “Where’s my parcel?!” Some delivery drivers, it seems, are not always thorough when it comes to getting the right parcel to the right person. Taking a photo of the item at the recipient’s door doesn’t help if it’s not your door! 


Then there’s the security of it all…if your parcel is sitting on your doorstep in full view of the street when you’re not home, how long would you imagine it would stay there? With no high streets, we’d all be forced into buying a secure cabinet or bin of some kind at our properties, for all the parcels we’d be ordering.


Quick and easy…right?


Amazon Prime items, more often than not, arrive the next day. For other online retailers, especially those in other countries and across the pond, delivery could take weeks—and it’s not always clear, when ordering from smaller e-commerce sites, where the company is based. Bricks and mortar shops within the UK can process deliveries much quicker than ordering online from overseas, and you can just pop into the shop for the item when it arrives.


Damages


Back to the delivery guys. Again, there are plenty of examples where items have arrived damaged, either through a lack of protective packaging, or roughhousing by the handlers during the parcel sorting and delivery processes.


Some delivery drivers try to be safety-conscious and put customers’ parcels in their wheelie bins. Great if you’re aware of this via a card through your letterbox when you get home, but if this is missed or not left in the first place, there are plenty of examples where precious new items have ended up at the local landfill site because the homeowner wasn’t aware the parcel was in their bin before it was collected.


A lack of experience


Yes, online ordering is great and convenient, but it’s not that helpful when it comes to finding unique gifts. Type those exact words into Google and rather than unusual, special items appearing in the results, it’s just more of the same. The thing is, sometimes you don’t know what you want to buy a loved one until you see it. Which makes this difficult to type into a search engine, because you don’t yet know what that item is.


When shopping for my hard-to-buy-for-daughter (my other daughter is a gifting dream; she loves pretty, girly things, gift sets and the like. My youngest is a tomboy with few interests other than Star Wars…on this 16 year-old’s Christmas list was a working (not ornamental), full-size lightsabre—this is what I’m up against), I browsed online for ‘surprise’ gifts and stocking fillers, but got nowhere. When I went into town, however, I found a few things I knew she’d like, things I didn’t know existed. Having the items in front of me as a prompt was much more helpful in that instance.


Whilst shopping for her, we heard a brass band blowing out Christmas carols, we saw the town’s Christmas lights twinkling above us, and we appreciated the luxury hot chocolate we had halfway through the shop when we began to flag. The satisfaction I felt when we got home that I’d managed to get everything I needed, and it was all with me, waiting to be wrapped, was great.


Not convenient


I appreciate that this is a busy time for delivery drivers and that they’re working all hours to deliver the backlog of items in their stores. It’s never been a thing other years, so I can only presume Covid-19 has affected staffing levels, but I’ve woken up to a parcel hanging on my front door handle at 7am. I’ve also had Amazon deliver my parcels at 9.30pm at night. I don’t find this convenient at all, personally, especially when I have a crazy dog that barks the house down if someone knocks on the door. Bet the neighbours love us.


Clothes, clothes, clothes…


One of the drawbacks with ordering clothes online is that you can’t try them on. Yes, you can usually send them back and claim a refund, but that’s a lot of pratting about if you want to find the perfect outfit for an upcoming event. Much easier to go into a shop and try something on you like the look of (obviously, this would be pre- and post-Covid)—particularly when shops vary so much in their sizing. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, there are many benefits associated with shopping online. But I also feel we should fight to keep the choice of online or offline, as in some cases, online isn’t always better. If we relied only on parcels coming to our door, we may miss the benefits of offline shopping—which are rarely talked about these days, in favour of ‘progress’. 


Just think about it, though. If all we could do is shop online, would we really be better off?



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