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High Street Blues

Internet sales have already eaten about 20% of the retail market by value, and around 10% of shop units in the UK are now standing vacant. Some large retail chains went bust early in the current recession (Woolworths, notably); others are teetering on the brink (Blacks, La Senza).

Where are we going in another decade? What is the high street environment going to look like? (This isn't an exercise in retail management forecasting but in Gibsonian futurism ...)

Obviously we're going to see a bunch of pound/dollar stores proliferating (as they already are) because they're the cloaca of the distribution chain, spewing out remaindered products at a fixed price. View TK/TJ Maxx as a higher-level version of this niche.

I suspect high-end department stores will survive, probably by taking orders for bespoke products that are then manufactured to the customer's requirement and delivered to them. For example: go in, examine the clothing, then order an outfit—they'll measure you and arrange to have the different garments tailor-made (by different suppliers) and converged on you.

We'll see a residuum of other outlet types persisting to serve specific demographics; for example, over-60s really don't like learning new technologies, hence the survival of the cheque. Things to watch out for: if, for example, Marks and Spencer's clothing styles begin to visibly age. (Right now they're merely frumpy/boring, but they cover all ages from babies on up. If they abandon the young adult market, that'll be a sign of young adults withdrawing from the cheap-but-reliable traditional retailers.)

We'll see some specialist stores survive, but they'll increasingly be selling via mail order backed off someone else's internet presence. See for example AbeBooks and the number of struggling second hand bookstores who gratefully gave up their storefront and 9-5 hours and moved into storage units and online sales only. This is probably going to hit big-box hobby shops like Hobbycraft, and possibly car accessory suppliers like Halfords (but not for stuff that needs fitting—this is already a major marketing point in Halfords advertising campaigns).

Out of town big-box retailers (CostCo, WalMart (in the US), IKEA, the large out-of-town Tesco and Asda supermarkets) and drive-in malls will survive for a while, but the rising cost of driving may disrupt them—not to mention a hostile planning environment (it's very hard to get permission for a new IKEA or similar-sized store in the UK). Suburb-dwellers need automobiles and these stores cater efficiently to their needs, but as fuel costs rise suburban living becomes less attractive and dense urban lifestyles may undergo a resurgence; but I suspect that even if they lose out on drive-in customers, these big box warehouses will continue to operate as distribution hubs for internet ordering services. In any event, they occupy a rather less central role in British retail life than they do in the US.

Getting back to the high street, though, will mobile phone stores survive? Boutique but non-bespoke clothing shops? Low-end grocery supermarkets (which could be replaced by a sufficiently reliable warehouse/fulfilment service)?

Which leads me to wonder: what overall percentage of the high street retail frontage is still going to be occupied a decade hence? And what are our high streets going to look like?

Finally, by way of a serendipitous update to my algorithmic pricing post: Intel and Kraft's iSample vending kiosks study shoppers:

A "smart" vending machine that analyses users' age and gender has been launched in the US by Intel and Kraft Foods.

The iSample is being used to offer customers trials of a new dessert.

It allows Kraft to tailor the product to the shopper, and exclude children from the adult-focused promotion.

Intel says it intends to retrofit the technology to existing vending machines to allow companies to study what type of people are buying their products.

I suspect there's a trend in train here ...

216 Comments

1:

If my old home town of Slough is anything to go by (In the past year it's lost Waterstones, a sizeable HMV, Jessops and Curry's, and it's now got pretty much nothing but clothes shops, cheap jewellers, pound stores and mobile phone shops.

There is now no reason to travel into the town from outside.

2:

Bedford High St - estate agents, pound shops, charity shops, fast food shops, betting/gambling shops, pubs plus a few traditional holdouts who presumably actually own long leases on the premises. These will disappear eventually. I used to visit the town center two or three times a week. Now because of the parking charges I visit once a month, with a carefully timed 1 hour visit. Just in and out, get what I want, no time for browsing. If the govt ever forced out of town shopping to charge for parking I would buy just about everything over the Net

3:

More specialised service-oriented shops, definitely. Our local bookshop survives because they are plugged into the community, not because they sell books cheaply. Similarly, debugging-and-fixing shops - yes, you could do it all yourself, but do you want to?

Delivery destinations. Given that all the courier companies are crap, and you can't guarantee to be able to accept deliveries at work, some chains will take online orders for shop pickup. Particularly good for things you might reject almost immediately (clothes the wrong size?).

Actually fresh produce - vegetables, fish, cheese, meat? - shipped overnight through markets like the Covent Garden one, and delivered in the small hours to traders who knock off at 3pm.

4:

Convenience stores and neighbourhood supermarkets (they're increasingly converging here in Japan) will likely survive. They cater to a here-and-now situation that no delivery service can match. When you're in the middle of cooking and need a carton of milk; or you're already on your way home when you remember you need to pick up something for dinner; or you're going for a beer run at halftime you need a physical store close by.

And I suspect that here-and-now segment is fairly large. Even when you can preorder your groceries quite a lot of people lack the discipline and drive to actually plan their meals ahead for days (I know I don't). Same thing for restaurants, bars and fast food; they have faced home delivery competition for many years and still manage to survive.

5:

La Senza is already in receivership.

Although there are many choices of course, I suspect we'll see a return to a more community based high street. There will (probably) be things like butchers, shoe shops and a few hold-outs for things that people remain largely unwilling to buy online. They might end up paying a premium, but such shops do still exist.

After that, I think the pricing policy for local taxes will change and we'll see possibly a few covered markets appearing in old big store locations, and some form of public meeting venues - that could be Starbucks, Subway and the like, but I'd hope for some more local, non-chain businesses and rates bills to support that.

But I agree, despite the reports, we'll see shops largely vanishing. Charity shops might continue to predominate. And unless we have smart pricing policies for rates, we'll see the chains fight for more and more franchises until we reach overload. How many Starbucks, Caffe Nero etc. can we fit into one city?

6:

In my corner of Canada, private mail carriers are the weak point of the Internet shopping experience; they will only deliver during business hours - when people are away working - or hold packages in inconveniently far service centres... but only after an unsuccessful delivery.

When possible, having a product delivered to a store for pickup is the more convenient option.

I could see stores becoming a combination show room (a la Apple Store) and order-pickup counter. Meaning: you can see the product, order the product or pick up an order delivery, but you can't actually buy on-site; the "store" has no inventory.

(Canada Post does have post offices where mail is held for customers, but few e-stores go through them, Amazon being an exception. A lucky few work jobs where they can accept deliveries, the rest of us get things delivered to a stay-at-home relative or even take a day off to sign for the package.)

7:

Corner shops will survive in some form. However it's an interesting question whether it'll be run by the traditional family-run convenience store or the big chains -- Tesco Local, for example. TL have the advantage of leveraging a huge logistic back end and being able to use the big out-of-town supermarkets as their own distribution hubs. Family-run have the advantage of local knowledge and, ahem, casualized labour (in addition to stop control/rotation/cash flow and other back-office tasks they just need to make sure a member of the family is on hand to operate the til 80 hours a week).

It's interesting to speculate about the possible impact of contactless payment, RFID, and face-recognition-assisted CCTV to reduce stock wastage on corner shops. It's possible that in the near future 90% of check-out will be automated: if you run out of ingredient [X] while cooking, you grab your phone and wander down to your local store, pick what you need off the shelves, and wander out. The act of carrying the RFID-enabled packet through the doorway causes the shop to ding the e-wallet in your phone for the price; no human involvement needed.

(And if you left your e-wallet at home, you'll be clocked walking in the door by the CCTV system, clocked walking out with stolen goods, and they'll email a crime report with attached video evidence and facial recognition metrics to the local police station before you get home. Or, more likely, the door will only open for people who are carrying a wallet or for locals who've registered with this shop for their "out of hours" service.)

This would cut the labour cost of running a neighbourhood convenience store considerably by doing away with the need to have a body on the shop floor to man the til during all opening hours.

8:

Food markets *could* in theory stage a comeback, providing a destination around which other businesses can grow.

Here in Birmingham the very well used, popular and busy open food market is probably on the way out...

http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2011/08/03/birmingham-bullring-market-traders-vow-to-fight-closure-threat-97319-29168784/

I'm re-reading Jane Jacobs

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs

9:

Haven't seen it yet but I'm sure it's just a question of time before you start to see larger high street shop properties repurposed as affordable apartment multiplexes (not blocks of flats necessarily)

I'm sure then that high streets, particularly those that were 'pedestrianised' in the 70s and 80s will see a return of market traders with transportable stalls selling locally grown produce, possibly farmers selling direct, since their income will have been has been well and truly buggered by the big supermarkets.

Particularly if people are living in the high street and cars get too expensive, it will be just easier to pop out of the front door to shop than go online and get a delivery slot.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants will flourish in some fashion on the high street too, to service that community.

10:

Other than the here-and-now segment, there's the need-to-try-first class. Shoe shops are a good example (though as noted by Charlie, there will be more trying a sample, ordering for later delivery), as are shops for any product whose quality cannot be judged purely visually.

Perfume is an example - but then again, the success of Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs as a business model shows that sometimes (often) people will buy a scent they've not actually smelled yet.

I suspect the combination of above woes and the rapid evolution of fabbing might result in a lot of bespoke tailoring/custom shops - try a template, specify personalization, pick up in a day or so (or have delivered). But these shops would employ few people and turnover might be erratic - neither of which helps in meeting a high monthly rent.

One end result is a huge fall in high street rents - which may lead to smaller local co-ops renting cubic for shared use.

11:

I could see stores becoming a combination show room (a la Apple Store) and order-pickup counter.

Apple have begun doing this -- you can buy a build-to-order (bespoke, customized) machine online and now have it delivered to an Apple Store for collection (and they'll tell you when it's arrived). Mind you, car dealerships have been doing this since before there was an internet (order your desired customizations on paper, dealer calls you when the vehicle arrives). What's new is seeing it pushed down into lower price bands.

12:

You just described Edinburgh City Centre (minus the pedestrianization aspect, but with cobblestones and permanent congestion we might as well be).

13:

As it happens, I sat in on our town's planning committee meeting a couple of weeks back. One of the two items on the agenda was a planning application to build a Waitrose/Sainsbury/Tesco local store on the old cattle market at the top of the high street. Downstairs would be the store, upstairs would be two floors of apartments.

(The meeting recommended against the application on the basis that the road past the site is the A10 - we don't want people trying to stop on the side of that road, thankyoueversomuch, even to deliver - and the building would loom over the top end of town, out of scale with the adjacent architecture including the single-storey corn market.)

So town-centre new-build is already looking at this.

14:

And if you left your e-wallet at home, you'll be clocked walking in the door by the CCTV system...

In Chicagoland, we have the IPass (keep wanting to type iPass) toll system, with a transponder in the car that tells the tollway you've gone through. If the transponder doesn't respond, the system takes a picture of your plate, and if you've registered your car's make, model, color and license plate, they go "Oh, that was you" and deduct the toll, rather than nailing you for a toll violation.* They will send you a letter if you keep doing that, basically to remind you to go get another transponder.

I suspect, with facial recognition, your scenario would go "NO RFID, but customer registered with CC # XXXX", payment would be made and the door would unlock.

As a matter of fact, the other option is you hit the door on the way out, and find it not opening with a sign saying "please use the payment point" or "please see the manager for payment" illuminating, and you go "Dammit, forgot the phone, wait, I've got a tenner...." and you still get your beer. Fundamentally, one of the secrets of retail is helping the customer pay you.


*Protip. If you're in Chicago, don't have IPass, and blow through an IPass lane, you have seven days to go online and pay the toll. There's no upcharge, you just tell them your make, model, license plate, tick off the toll stations you passed, and pay, and they're all good -- they'll match up the camera records to your payment. I find the ILT's attitude here refreshing -- "You didn't pay? No problem, get it to us a week and we're fine."

OTOH, I absolutely love the people screaming about "I'M NOT DRIVING AROUND WITH THIS BOX TELLING THE MAN WHERE I AM AT ALL TIMES!!" Ahem. Fundamentally, the difference between your transponder and your license plate is the frequency the detectors operate on. Feel free to pull over at every tollbooth and pay the cash rate. It's even more entertaining when they then show you the smartphone they're always carrying with them.

15:

Heck, my local Tesco do this. Should I want to order a bed from Tesco Direct, I believe I could collect it from the store.

(Except the small detail of then getting that bed home without a roof-rack or trailer. But assume something smaller, 'mkay?)

16:

IIRC that the VAT threshold law on imports has recently been changed - probably too late to save HMV etc - but until recently there's been an unfair cost advantage to off-shore suppliers of DVDs, etc. Of course the damage is already done.

Brighton UK, we've got the same story as most places I guess - a massively declining trad high street, and a couple of specialist areas - one a mix of clothing and "lifestyle" outlets peppered with fast food, venues, comic shops and musical instrument suppliers - the other a group of antique and jewellery dealers salted with pubs. The "Lanes" and "North Laine" areas seem like "BritainWorld" from some kind of Japanese theme park.

Oh, and there's another category of shop - the kind of place that sells, oh I dunno, fancy hats or something- it's hardly ever open, nobody is ever in there, but somehow a lot of cash goes through the books. Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.

imho there's no alternative to playing a musical instrument before you buy it. I know people do order online and do okay, but for something as personal as an instrument I and many people have to get my hands on it first. However the most overheard phrase in a guitar shop these days is "Can you match the wesite price"?

Confusingly, although the high street is in decline, the pavement's never been so crowded.

17:

My local Sainsbury (one of the former Jackson's) is not a big out of town shop, it might be 900m2 shop floor area, but I'd guess closer to 700. It has 2 or 3 floors of flats, some luxury, some more normal, over it - it is on a street with a lot of 3-floor plus high roof buildings so it fits in. I remember seeing these in Singapore too, although obviously not Sainsbury's and usually more like 7 floors over them. The whole block would have a complete range of local suppliers in their own mini-market on the ground floor. Brownfield housing at its best.

I think Benoit #6 has an interesting point to the delivery issue, for those people that don't work from home. It's rarely a problem for me, although I do travel occasionally for work, but I'm usually in for deliveries. I wonder if some sort of delivery safe would work, or if we should add to our town centres a drop-off and collection point. $BIG_ONLINE_SERVICE delivers there, they store it for you with some form of per m3/day charging for the service, you get the notification it's waiting at work and go out during lunchtime, after work or similar to pick it up. If the service is not run on a per ordering service, but on a per town delivery point system, it could work pretty well.

18:

Probably not Sainsbury. Though Tesco have stores in Malaysia.

One thing I really noticed about central Paris: the buildings are mostly 7 or 8 stories high (pretty much the practical limit before the advent of the lift), with the ground floor being retail/restaurants/similar. They've got a population density there such that one floor of retail is fed from 7 floors of residents.

19:

I (in Massachusetts) recently switched to delivery for groceries, the wife having politely pointed out to me that the delivery fee was a couple of times less than the value of the time I spent shopping. It's a good system, but it's hard to imagine it catching on more broadly:

(1) Fees are high. I am a dot-com wonk and extremely inefficient shopper, so the price makes sense to me. That is not broadly true. Moreover, because the delivery service (Peapod) gives a discount for scheduling a delivery in an already-popular slot, we have an estimate there of the amount they would save by economies of scale. It is not an impressive amount.

(Competition might help with this. Peapod outlasted its only credible local competitor years ago, and so has not sought out efficiencies with any obvious zeal)

(2) Certain goods are sketchy to order online. The produce is usually good, but the meat is clearly not well chosen and sometimes delicates like eggs are a bit worse for the experience.

(3) Impedance mismatch between retail conventions and online ordering conventions. If you let your online "shopping cart" sit across a Thursday midnight, all the prices change. Coupon handling is clumsy (they need the physical coupons to get money from manufacturers). And moving from a non-tipping to a tipping interaction is decidedly uncomfortable for some folks (like myself) who are socially inept at tipping conventions.

I think you're right that delivery is going to take a progressively larger and larger share of the grocery business, but there's a lot of distance yet to cover there. I have high hopes that big national competitors (Walmart's testing grocery delivery right now; love them or hate them they shake things up...) will raise the bar a bit.

So I buy your Gibsonian extrapolation, but would modify Gibson's famous dictum: The future is here, it's just that we're still pretty bad at it.

20:

The Australian perspective is altering as well.

Here in Western Australia (the last home of shops which are closed on the weekends) we're getting more and more state government support for seven-day-a-week trading. At present, this is only an entity in the Perth city centre, and in certain tourist zones (Fremantle, Mandurah), but the current rumblings from the main political parties involve plans to make this an overall proposition. If this does come in, we can expect to see the end of the small corner stores, as they get out-competed by the suburban malls and the bigger supermarkets. I doubt we're going to get 24-hour trading any time soon (and even in those regions which do allow it, 24-hour trading is largely a wishful dream of the major retail chains rather than a profitable reality) but we've recently had an extension to trading hours allowing supermarkets to stay open until 9pm every week-night (as opposed to just Thursday nights).

The suburban shopping mall survives quite happily in Australia, more or less intact. The standard suburban shopping mall pattern over here is pretty simple - take one big chain supermarket (either Woolworths or Coles); mix in one discount department store (Big W, Kmart, Target or Best & Less); a liquor store (Woolworths Liquor or Coles Liquorland); a chemist; a newsagent; a post office shop; a real estate agent; a place that does dry cleaning; at least one pizza delivery mob; one bank branch; and a couple of ATMs; fill in gaps with hairdressers; shoe shops; possibly a discount/dollar store (or equivalent thereof - here in WA it's usually Red Dot); and any other small traders which fit the image and can afford the rent. Surround with enough tarmac to provide parking for half the surrounding district. These malls tend to be the centres for suburban day-to-day shopping, and they're holding on quite nicely, sustained by the fact that the majority of the population tends to head to their nearest mall in order to do the weekly grocery shopping and to buy things like clothing and footwear. In more recent subdivisions, they're also the location for the local pub or tavern, and possibly for a cultural centre or community centre.

What's actually starting to vanish into online-only over here are the "big box" retailers of things like electronic goods and furniture. There are a lot of the "assemble-it-yourself-and-save" stores which are hanging on by selling package deals ("3 rooms for $1000" and similar), but even there I suspect a lot of people are starting to realise it's quicker and easier to just order the flat packs from the manufacturer in Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan or China, and get them to send it to you direct.

21:

Just to clarify my previous post - one thing I think you'll definitely be able to get in a future Gibsonian High Street is a Gibson. Or a Martin, Taylor, Danelectro, Fender...

22:

Don't base your retail future on the notion that the cost of driving will continue to rise. If it's not already maxed out, it will do so in the near future, as the price of oil is already above any realistic long-term equilibrium -- at this price, all kinds of alternatives look very attractive financially, and the only thing stopping them being developed is the fear that oil might fall back to $50 per barrel (which is probably about where the long-term equilibrium price is).

23:

Note that this is the point where we can expect to hear of a whole bunch more retailers who've hoped that the seasonal sales will lift them out of danger, but are now having to face that this hasn't happened.

Today, another chain has gone, according to the BBC: Hawkin's Bazaar in administration

24:

I haven't visited western Australia, but what I've seen of Eastern Australia suggests to me that it's far more similar to the USA than the UK in terms of lifestyle: viz, there's lots of land, therefore lots of sprawl, and lots of room for malls and suburbs. What in the UK are described as "suburbs" would in the USA or Aus be considered dense inner-city housing developments. A US or Australian "suburb" is "open countryside" over here.

Which means people expect to drive to do their shopping in the USA/AUS, but over here a lot of us can get by on foot or public transport (it helps to live so densely that there's a bus stop a hundred metres from your front door with service every ten minutes).

25:

Agreed that the price of oil has maxed out -- or rather, it's currently trending down but is going to stay in the $50-$200 range. (If it goes down to $50 it means demand has crashed. If it goes up to $200 demand is so high that it makes sense for investors to pile into expensive tech for Fisher-Tropsch or oil shale or whatever.)

However, there's the issue of infrastructure. Oil is significant because it's a portable high-density energy reservoir, i.e. useful for vehicles. But it's not the only constraint on cars. The UK population passed 60 million around 2000, and is projected to hit 70 million by 2030 -- combination of a birth bubble and intra-EU immigration. The limiting issues I see are not so much road-building as inner-city congestion and parking problems, along with the high cost of road maintenance (we have a £600M repairs backlog in Scotland alone).

If we move towards self-driving cars and a fractional-ownership model (think in terms of AI-controlled taxis, to over-simplify) we can sidestep a lot of the parking costs, not to mention reducing overall vehicle fleet numbers. Which would allow us to provide private transport for 70M people with lower costs than for 60M. But if we try to cram an extra 15% more vehicles into our existing cities there will be problems.

26:

I think the big supermarkets Tesco Morrisons Asda etc and maybe smaller ones ie waitrose will eventually supply all their customers needs. in one store or on line banking insurance,estate agencies then opticians , prehaps doctors and why not schools, or pensions so one would be a Tesco or Asda man or woman getting special offers on purchases and then maybe Holiday resorts when we can all sit around the camp fire singing jingles. Almost a new religion

27:

Mike - I'd bet on it rising. When the Yuan floats to its true value it will put the price of oil where it should be as US and EU buying power plummets in relative terms.

It's not really relevant IMHO however. It's a convenience choice and range of product choice not a cost of driving choice.

28:

I expect to see the high street trending much more towards service (bicycle servicing, hair dressing, manicures) than stuff; but not entirely.

I don't expect to see clothing stores go totally online; at least not without really really GOOD "here is what this would look like on the 3D model of you that you have uploaded" - I'm not generally happy to buy clothes or shoes without trying them on to see how they fit and look on my body. Other things I usually want to "try before I buy" include jewelry, perfume, and furniture (I'm sure people can think of others). Yes distance selling regs are good but it takes a long time to go through multiple buy-and-return cycles. Perhaps places would focus on trying things out but hold little stock, allowing you to place an order for later delivery.

I also expect "need it right now" stuff to also remain available - places to buy lunch, a pint of milk, the toothpaste you forgot to order, a clean shirt after you tipped coffee all over yourself just before that important meeting.

29:

I used to work for a large photographic retailer, and I can see definite advantages in a bricks-and-mortar showroom, I always tried to get the customer to handle the product on the grounds that if it wasn't comfortable to use it wasn't the right piece of kit, and they should look at something else. (It shouldn't surprise you that I too heard "can you match x price" more times than I care to recall- or saw customers thank me for my time, and helping them finalise their online purchase). The small independents have managed to survive Ebay, but what seems to be killing many of them off are rental prices on property. There's very little margin on camera equipment, but lots of mark-up to be had in coffee.

I think that the cheap 7/11 supermarkets will keep going for a very long time- when these places charge per kilo what the major chains want for an individual pepper, and they're open at 3AM for milk/cleaning/etc products they've got a major advantage over the likes of Ocado.

30:

Mark G - I suspect that kind of high street densification will only happen in areas that have something to recommend them as a place to live for people who make a decent disposable income. You need that for pubs, cafes and restaurants to flourish.

31:

But as a contrast, Castle Road in Bedford, half a mile away from the High Street, has actually acquired businesses over the last decade and is now a thriving shopping street of its own serving the local terraced suburb.

It's intensely middle class (the most recent new businesses are an organic grocery and a Spanish deli), but there's lots of passing trade, rents are (presumably) cheaper, and nearly all of them are independent and nearly all are personal services or offer an enjoyable browse: butcher, bookshop, deli, hairdressers, launderette, pharmacy, dentist, bike shop, art gallery, pub, and others.

32:

This post reminds me of what Swiss watchmakers went through when inexpensive quartz watches from Japan came into their own. There probably wouldn't be Swiss haute horlogerie if it wasn't for Swatch providing competition for the Japanese watch companies.

Swatch became big enough to buy many of the failing luxury brands, and those brands utilized Swatch's capital to stay afloat, hoping in time that (enough) people (with enough cash) would bore of the digital watch. And that came to pass just in time for China to emerge, mass producing mechanical watch movements that a skilled watchmaker would find tedious, though presumably worthwhile to produce. So, feeling another crisis coming on, the high end producers started focusing on watch buying as an experience.

That, and I imagine some folks are always going to get their kicks by spending wild amounts of money on things, and so there will needs be a supply for that demand. So, for High Street, I'd see a catering to experiential situations. Bragging rights on quality.

If mixed with the "contactless payment, RFID, and face-recognition-assisted CCTV" technology, would the doors to such a shop even open if your credit rating was too low?

33:

All this is going to interact with 3D printers. I'm assuming that 3D printers will be too expensive for most households for a while.

How long till monitors which can do really accurate color become standard?

34:

Living in a rural area in the US as I do, I find these accounts of grocery delivery services quite science fictional. I grok that the economics make more sense in places with higher population densities, but I cannot comprehend how selection of the fresh stuff would work, well, anywhere. Although I do notice that Grant (#19 above) says it does work OK in Massachusetts.

As someone who eats a largely vegetarian diet, living in a place where "food" usually means "breaded and deep fried meat", finding adequate produce is a constant struggle. Local farmer's markets are few and pathetic; good farmer's markets and high-end grocery stores (with consistently edible produce) are 1.5 hours or more away, one-way.

Shopping for fruit and vegetables locally (Walmart, chain supermarkets, independent local food markets, discount grocers) is an exercise in repetition and frustration. At any given time in any one of these stores, the produce ranges from "fresh and beautiful" (imported from Florida, California, Mexico, or South America, and typically not that fresh) all the way down to "literally rotting, covered with mold, and buzzing with flies." Produce managers at these local stores do a bad job of managing, with the result that 70% or more of the items on offer are wrinkled, dried out, waterlogged and slimy from sitting under a spray mister for ten days, freckled with mold spots, or otherwise unattractive. On any given day at any given store, a few items that are almost too rotten to eat are on heavy discount to move them out, a few more items are fresh and good, and the majority is not (in my opinion) salable at all.

So, if I have a shopping list (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, carrots, bell peppers, jalepeno peppers, green onions, lemons, limes, apples, bananas, pears) I go first to the discount grocery, find and purchase two or three items from the list that are fresh and good plus one or two more that are iffy but heavily discounted. Then I go to another store and repeat the process. Usually I have to go to a third store (in another nearby small town fifteen miles away in another direction) if I genuinely want to complete the list; in practice, I usually compromise on quality or list completeness so as to avoid too much driving on any one shopping day.

It's clear to me that in theory a groceries delivery service could set some sort of high standard and not send stuff out the door that didn't meet that high standard. But in practice, I can't figure out:

1) how they would manage to pull off managing their own produce department so well, when almost nobody else in the grocery industry seems able to do it;

2) how they would supply themselves and avoid enormous waste, given that the produce supply chain appears to be laden with enormous volumes of inferior produce;

3) how they would keep costs down enough, when even the freshest fanciest most expensive produce in these parts arrives from a great distance with much of it being of low quality the day it arrives due to being picked too green and/or shipped way too far.

There's a Whole Foods store two hours away where everything is beautiful, fresh, and takes-your-breath-away expensive. So that's my benchmark for what it would take to have all the veggies in your online catalog be good enough that people will be happy to receive them without picking them out personally. If the costs (produce management, intelligent procurement, computerized demand prediction and fulfillment scheduling, culling and wasting of inferior produce, quality control on orders going out the door) are that high, the market for home delivery of groceries seems doomed to be a luxury niche.

I realize that many of these problems are related to the "insufficient population density" problem that grocery delivery faces in the U.S. -- distances are vast and produce supply chains very long. But there seems to me to also be a "people problem"; in the land of deep fried meats, nobody cares very much about fruit and veg. And yet the same consumer who might buy a wrinkled pepper or a floppy cuke at a discount (to eat today) after picking it out himself (from a bin in which much has already gone moldy), will surely balk at accepting the same produce for home delivery, especially if he ordered four of each and is expecting them to last a week. And if grocers can't even figure out how to remove moldy items from their in-store displays, I can't figure out how they would expect to apply a higher standard to their delivery orders.

35:

I think the idea of an unmanned shop that's open late at night has distinct possibilities. You'd probably need it to be a members only place, so you'd need a keycard to get in.

You could probably semi-staff it, by use of video cameras and a remote person keeping an eye on multiple shops.

36:

Everything will go to the Internet and self-service 'advanced' vending machines apart from the things that cannot – namely stores in which you do not 100% know what you want, and the very act of shopping is an experience.

37:

Bacchus' comment seems right on the money to me, and I'm living in the middle of an allegedly modern capital city (Dublin, hence the "allegedly"). Past experience with ordering perishables over the internet (using Tesco Direct) have not been favorable - it's almost as though there was a system in place to ship the goods closest to their expiry or best before date instead of the freshest produce available.

Of course, no business would be so underhandedly sneaky in the pursuit of a quick profit...

It's why I think that while nonperishable markets like books, electronic widgets of all kinds, furniture and so on, can and probably will be replaced by centralised online setups (now that groups like Amazon have carved out the idea into the mainstream), whether or not the initial manufacturer is a multinational or a single craftsman; I *don't* think we'll ever see the end of the high street perishable stores, ie. food, whether as corner shops selling a bit of everything, or single-purpose shops like grocers, bakers and butchers, or open-air markets (and those who think that such markets are a minority kind of thing selling artisan products to yuppies, haven't been to continental europe much - these markets have been around there for centuries and in quite a few modern cities are the main source of the weekly shopping for the average family).

Mind you, that thought is predicated on the belief that people take their food more personally than almost anything else (hey, if you ingest electronic widgets several times a day, go you; but I'll bet you pay more attention to them than you would to say, curtain rings), and won't stand for their food being turned to crap. The larger fast food chains (and the comedy stereotype of Scottish food) do tend to argue that that may not necessarily be true...

38:

Also, does nobody else hear the description of an unmanned shop based on eWallets and RFIDs and immediately think that it will never happen, for several reasons:
- People being locked in because of phone batteries dying
- Tech support being needed when the systems inevitably break
- People gaming the system during economic recessions
- People having to be educated and trained to use the system
- Spills and breakages needing to be cleaned up
- Levels of staff theft when you have only one or two staff on duty in a large impersonal setup.

And there are probably dozens of other reasons too...

39:

One thing that might make a difference, in say the next 10 years which is the right sort of timeframe, will be the rise of telework.

Maybe I'm biased - I sit at home in the UK and work regularly with people from Portugal, several states of the US, a couple of places in Canada, and more rarely people from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. The work with the Russians never came to pass - but there were some negotiations around it.

But from chatting to various other people, full time or more commonly part time teleworking is becoming more and more common.

I'd guess - and it is a guess with fairly wide error bars - in a decade 30% of the current workforce in city centres/downtown/central business districts won't be there - they'll be at home. Some of the big offices will just close, some will share spaces, I'd expect a number of businesses renting out meeting spaces by the hour to become established too.

That will spectacularly affect the footfall and attractiveness of shops, pubs, cafes and the like. Recently losing 10% of our coach parking space in an inner city car-park devastated one shopping street here, footfall from tourists fell by about 10% and the shops that relied on that for the bulk of their trade disappeared if their margins were too tight. A 30% fall... ouch.

And, lets say 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 of the current big office blocks closes as people rationalise their office presence - that's suddenly a lot more vacant spaces to worry about.

40:

In my corner of Canada, private mail carriers are the weak point of the Internet shopping experience; they will only deliver during business hours - when people are away working - or hold packages in inconveniently far service centres... but only after an unsuccessful delivery.

Up in my corner, if you don't have a car then you can't pick up the product from the courier office. The courier Apple uses requires pick-up at a location three hours round-trip from my house, for example. (That's driving, by bus it would take most of the day.)

And of course, anything ordered internationally brings in a whole host of extra charges. Adorama's courier, for example, charges the same to deliver a bag to Canada as Mongolia: $100 to deliver a $30 bag, which the post office will deliver for less than $10 but Adorama only uses a courier.

So thinking future-ward, either internet companies will realize that using the post office is a good option, or there will be a proliferation of courier pick-up counters, either associated with specific couriers or as a general service (like renting a post office box).

41:

Several comments: first, don't confuse the effects of the current economic slump with the effects of technological obsolescence. The difference is that when the economic slump ends, so will it's effects on retail. Technological obsolescence is forever, however.

So, how do we tell the difference between economic slump and technological obsolescence? As an example, I'll compare the local bookstore (which I'd say is technologically obsolete) and the local grocery store (which I'd say isn't). I look at three factors:

1. Immediacy, aka convenience. How long does it take for us to get the product? How long are we willing to wait for the product? Note that this works both for and against online retailers. For things that can be delivered over the internet, such as e-books, music, movies, etc.- the internet is the ultimate in immediacy. Click a link, and instantly you're watching a movie or listening to a song or reading book- not five to nine working days from now, not five minutes from now, now.

For actual atoms, things change. Now physical presence is the advantage. When I grew up, we lived over 15 miles away from the nearest grocery store (rural Iowa). Now, I live a block away from a grocery store (Brooklyn Heights, New York City). Believe me, it changes how you shop. When the grocery store is 15 miles away, you buy a week's worth of groceries at a shot- and if you forget something, you make do. With the grocery store a block away, you buy groceries for tonight, and if you forget something, you turn the heat down and go get it. One of the advantages of re-urbanization is that you get to live a block away from a grocery store.

Even a delay of only a few hours changes this equation. You're no longer thinking "what am I going to cook five minutes from now?", you're thinking "what am I going to cook tomorrow?" There is an advantage to the former that can easily overcome a price difference, so that even if waiting a few hours lowers the price, I'll still just duck out to the local grocery store to pick up dinner.

2. The fat tail. It is hard, if not impossible, for a physical retail location to carry a sufficient variety of products to satisfy a real fat tail demand curve. This is really a question of substitutablity. If I walked into a bookstore and asked "Got the latest Charles Stross?" and they responded "No, but here, try this Nora Roberts instead", I'd probably respond "Um, no thanks" while making a mental note never to shop there again. Even if they offered me a Neal Stephenson as a replacement, it's still not the same. While I enjoy both authors, they're not really substitutes for each other. On the other hand, bananas is bananas. And substituting strawberries for bananas is generally acceptable.

Less substitutable goods (like books) will generally have much more of a fat tail of demand, and reward the centralized distribution point- the one warehouse in Jersey that can hold the six books that covers the entire non-substitutable demand that book for the entire north-east. More substitutable goods (like bananas) do not have as much of a fat tail, and thus reward the centralized distribution model much less.

3. The experience. Remember- we were hunter-*gatherers*. Just like sports fulfills our atavistic hunting urges, so too does shopping fulfill our atavistic gathering urges. And it's not just females who like to shop. I know what image you just visualized when I started talking about the fun of shopping. Next Saturday afternoon, take yourself down to the local hardware store or auto-parts store, and observe the male gatherer in his modern environment (and, for the record, lots of females enjoy sports as well).

42:

What does the retail situation look like in Japan with the rise of e-commerce? Japan for decades has had a famously inefficient retail and distribution sector, leading to the proliferation of extremely specialized shops, a relative lack of larger stores, and unusual forms of vending machines by European or North American standards. This obviously has not stopped Japan from being an intensely consumer-oriented society -- and it's not obvious to me that this has caused a significant welfare impact on the Japanese people.

If these new systems are significantly more efficient, one should expect the greatest visible changes in retail to occur in Japan. Provided, of course, that this isn't all a cultural quirk, or driven by some other factor than the retail end of the supply chain.

43:

Really accurate colour ... ah, that depends on how you define accurate. If you're looking for monitors that can produce the same range of colours as printers (and vice versa), let alone either with the real world, a very long time. We need new technology to do them properly.

Right now, they're faked using a handful of primaries. Your monitor uses a mix of just three single frequency lights to attempt to trick the human eye into thinking that it's seeing any frequency in the range between infra-red and ultra-violet. Your monitor cannot display violet, because that's 'bluer than blue'.

Printers are worse: your home colour printer probably uses three colour pigments, and then has to use a black one as well because it can't actually mix those pigments to get black. (Hence CMYK)

More professional printers go for 7 colour or more. Real proper ones add 'spot' colours: shades of ink that mixing pigments can't get very well. These will be used for corporate colours on signage, for example.

The problem is, all of this relies on an idealised human eye. And the eye varies: even without colour-blindness, if my eye thinks that a particular mixed set of pigments exactly matches a pure colour, yours may not, yours may require a slightly different mix for you to accept the match.

The same applies for colour monitors. You also have the problem that what those monitors want to display is usually originated using a camera. Which itself has the same sorts of shortcomings as the monitor, but differently balanced, and ... oh, I'm sorry, this is one of those cases where the real world is vastly more complex than is convenient. (It also explains why I've pored over underwear pictures, trying to get the right setup so the model's flesh tone looked right on the screen and on the page. Bloody M&S. It's the flesh tone every time.)

If you were looking to try to match clothing colours on a monitor with what you'd actually get, you'd have to allow for some variation, just as is the case with clothing catalogues.

(I'm always struck by how the world changes colour when I wear dark glasses in bright sunlight. Black clothes are very rarely actually black, but it's glaringly obvious with dark glasses.)

(And don't get me started on image formats. Why, Adobe, did you feel it necessary to invent the YCCK colour model and then not document it?)

44:

My personal prediction is that this is a really risky area to predict in.

Why?

There's at least three opposing trends here:

1. The increasing ability to do things easily online (eWallets, just in time delivery). This appears to cut out intermediaries, otherwise known as local shops.

2. Straining infrastructure at all levels. This includes:
--concerns over how we're going to fuel all those vehicles. No more need be said about peak oil, but a lot of this does depend on moving crap around dependably. That ability could go away fairly quickly.
--Inability of governments at all levels (in the US) to maintain existing infrastructure. This not only includes roads, it includes power and water.
--An existing infrastructure that's 50 years out of date for online delivery. To put it bluntly, even modern cities aren't well laid out to have delivery trucks take the place of markets. Bigger stores often have loading docks and parking lots, which is a way of transferring goods from long-haul to local transport. I don't know of any town that is well laid out to have long-haul-to-home. We need at least one set of intermediaries, just to accommodate streets. (Oh yeah, and the US Post office is going away, because it prices its services too cheaply. Right.)

3. Government planning. I'm in a relatively young city, and we're still fighting over roads that were laid out on paper 50 years ago. The unbuilt roads are in places where they're not particularly needed and cause environmental grief, but there's a small but powerful group of people who want the old map built anyway, on any pretext. Town plans don't change quickly, especially when there are some good ol' boys who think they can still make money on the old plan.

Worse perhaps, we're currently designing for 2050, in terms of allocating what, how, and where to build (ex-urban sprawl vs. clustered new development), and the numbers used in the plan are questionable. I can pretty much guarantee that reality won't match this plan, but I do agree that they have to try. Our current infrastructure is too strained to accommodate haphazard growth any more.

As you can see, these three trends oppose each other in some unpredictable ways. Some favor globalization, some favor localization, and others may well favor migration. Worse, I think every city and town has its own spin on these issues, and that adds an additional level of unpredictability.

If I had to guess who would stay in business, I'd bet on adaptable business-people who are good at reinventing themselves, rather than on particular businesses. I'd also bet on growth in places that are currently seeing spectacular down-turns, like the American rust-belt. As for slumps, I'd look at whoever is riding high now, or was riding high five years ago. Put slumification in the boomtowns, gentrification in the old mills, and it might make a bit of sense. We'll see.

45:

The experience. Remember- we were hunter-*gatherers*. Just like sports fulfills our atavistic hunting urges, so too does shopping fulfill our atavistic gathering urges. And it's not just females who like to shop.

That's a big deal, actually. Shopping is a social and cultural experience, so the question is what kind of shopping is "social" and what kind of shopping isn't social? Shopping for clothes, shoes, and cosmetics is definitely social. Restaurants are definitely social. Outside of that... I don't know what shops should be expected to survive on that basis. Grocery shops and hardware stores. Repair shops. Convenience stores...

I had an interesting experience yesterday when I purchased a gift. The person I was buying for wanted something I didn't know much about and the clerk at the shop was very, very helpful and knowledgeable. I suppose that the kind of shopping where expert help is needed will probably survive, but that may vary from person to person.

Not much more to say on this one.

46:

Re automated shops, open 24 hours: We have one of those here in Freiburg, Germany, since 1980. See "Automaten-Emma", e.g. in this article (in German): http://fudder.de/artikel/2008/10/10/freiburger-warenwelt-15-die-automaten-emma/ - in my experience (I used the shop exactly once) it's a nice thing to have after opening hours, if you need to buy something to eat, but prices are much higher than in the regular super market.

47:

Slough suffers from having Windsor two miles away. All the upper market shops have migrated there. Windsor has grown strength to strength. It's the mid market shops that have suffered the most.

48:

Here in Seattle it feels like the trend is away from shops that sell off the shelf new objects and towards ones that sell transient experiences, primarily eating and drinking. Or second hand objects, or highly specialised stores selling objects that most people need assistance when purchasing, like handmade jewellery.
But I've got to think that theres a limit to how many bars, resteraunts, coffee shops, bakerys, etc. a neighbourhood can support. Although they keep finding new ways to entice people, locavore resteraunts, small batch coffee roasting, etc.
Another thing i've noticed recently is a few new housing units in shopping areas that have a living space above a small shop front. They brand them as European craftsman style. They sell things like gadget repair, hand made clothes, craftsmanish objects, etc. sort of like a market stall but more so. Dunno if they'll last though, the profit margins have to be pretty small.

49:

Hmm, where will family run corner stores be able to afford all this tech they certainly won't be plugged into any sophisticated stock control systems.
Thats why Tesco Local is sweeping through the family owned corner shop. They have the capital and the logistics. The best bet for a local shop owner is to become a franchisee of a big supermarket chain.


There will not be unmanned stores either, the cashier is part of secuirty as well.

50:

Don't know Bedford, but is the key to this residential then? i.e. people within walking distance? Not some uni-purpose retail zone.

Jane Jacobs wrote about this decades ago, ideal street would have stuff that creates activity all day: Residential above for steady trade (and eyes looking down on the place), maybe some office employment, a school or college brings in a totally different crowd with a different arrive and depart time, ideally some evening type activity generators as well. Trade all day into the evening and a variety of types of people.

Instead so much of the UK outside the biggest cities and a few towns that get it right (generally despite post-war town planning not because) has a big shopping centre and couple of pedestrianised streets that are ghost towns at night, a few streets full of pubs, clubs and bars that are a battlefield at kicking out time, maybe a business park on the outskirts with a traffic jam in in the morning and out in the evening. Sigh

51:

This feels a lot like the 20th century depopulization of the farming industry. In 1860, 64% of Americans were farmers; in 1990 it waas 2.6%.*

So where did all those people go? Into manufacturing, then services, then web design. (-:

Much of the farmland still is being farmed by small farmers. But the farmers have consolidated. Instead of 40 acres, a family can operate 400 acres or more (16->160 hectares). Suburbs have been steadily encroaching into the land, but there's still a lot of farmland out there 150 years after the industrial revolution started. (In the US. The UK has always been denser.)

That's kind of necessary. Food production is very roughly proportional to land farmed, and nobody stopped eating when they moved to the city.

There is no similar reason for the "high street" (very British term; the only High Street in the US bisects Columbus, Ohio) to remain retail-focused. The easy extrapolation is that we'll see more coffee shops, professional offices, and maybe a softening of real estate prices. If prices do drop, artists will move in.

Medicine is a strange industry. Parts of it want to be intensely local - nobody in Indonesia can clean your teeth for you - and other parts need to be extremely specialized, which implies centralization. So I'd expect to see dentist's offices largely unchanged for a while, but the rest of the industry will shuffle around between neighborhood offices, hospitals, and Asian outsourcers. I just know I wouldn't start a career in radiology today.

Food service will change in superficial ways, but the restaurant works really well as a social gathering place. Waiters have never really been necessary, but I can't see any force that will make the job disappear.

Something new and high tech: on-site manufacturing. If you want an item that can be printed in plastic and metal, but it's too big for your home fabricator, there might be a place a few blocks from your house with a fab big enough to print a couch, a bed, or a Victorian reading chaise replica, and they'll have a forklift/crane/walkerbot you can borrow to take it home and up the stairs. I could see convenience stores picking this up as a sideline.

But I think the town center's function will be increasingly social. People need a place to congregate. Hanging out will become increasingly decoupled from shopping, though. Maybe churches will make a comeback.

* Google found this; it may be accurate. I'm aware it's US-centric.
http://www.agclassroom.org/gan/timeline/farmers_land.htm

52:

Yesterday's high tech is tomorrow's trash. Example: hearing a year or so ago from a local cafe owner who was installing a CCTV system. Digital recorder, offsite streaming via internet for backup, eight infra-red capable VGA resolution cameras (some of them designed to be *really* inconspicuous) ... he picked it up second hand for £250, or the price of a cheap netbook (in the UK). A decade ago it would have been a couple of thousand, and two decades ago it would have been an exotic surveillance rig that only a department store could afford, worth more than the annual salary of the security operators they employed to watch the screens.

You're entirely right about Tesco Local's logistic edge. You're also right about the local franchisee option being a sensible one (that, incidentally, hit the retail pharmacy biz in the mid-to-late 1980s). But there's nothing inevitable about it; big companies also have administrative overheads that a small family hole-in-the-wall operation doesn't have.

53:

Chunks of the inner boroughs of London also. Combo of relatively high population density, low car ownership and the sheer pointlessness of driving as a means of getting anywhere (takes forever, can't park when you get there).

All this makes you prone to walking to local amenities, which in turn means they viable, which results in less need to drive to places. Feedback loop (but then isn't most economics). Suddenly little market stalls popping up as well selling organic food, lovely cheeses etc.

Ironically the thing most likely to result in having to drive is a home delivery that ends up in some courier company depot in some god-forsaken industrial park.

Some of the most prosperous places seem to be making some sort of transition into a life-style experience rather than functional shopping though - coffee shops, restaurants, bars, + shops selling stuff you don't actually need (i.e. entirely devoted to expensive cup-cakes). Not clear where their functional shopping is taking place.

54:

I think the longer term terms are quite easy to view looking backwards. High streets are less about retailing stuff and more about convenience - dining and entertainment. Retail stores that do well in that environment tend to be [higher end] clothes and art/novelty stores.

The reasons are pretty clear and noted by commentators above. Parking has become increasingly problematic, so trips to the traditional high street are returning to the types of shopping that was once done using public transport. This has pushed retailing in out of town shopping centers. Town centers (where they exist or are contrived) become social centers to eat and to be distracted/entertained with window displays.
London has noticeably changed it's mix to many more places to buy food - from coffee and sandwich bars to restaurants and mini supermarkets, like the aforementioned TESCO local. In San Jose, CA, developers constructed "Santana Row", a mixed restaurant/entertainment/shops and residential area that looks like a faux European small town center. If they would just get rid of the roads and put down cobblestoned pedestrian-only streets, it would be even better.

The other driver of high street retailing is the rising rents. This has driven the older type of store or business out of area in favor of more profitable ones.

To me, high streets increasingly look like tourist destination towns, rather than the traditional model. Unless people really don't want to eat out, I don't see this trend changing anytime soon.

Contrary to the idea that there could be more automated-stores, I don't see this happening. Labor cost of "shop assistants" is low. Probably a lot lower than fancy hardware that needs maintenance. A lot lower than the rent for space. So what is the advantage of a store that you can't touch the merchandise until you pay for it and is likely to be a lot more expensive than online purchase?

55:

Personal anecdote: I traveled 250 miles yesterday to try on a piece of specialized clothing that isn't available anywhere closer. It fit; I bought it. I also got to talk to the shop owner who has quite a bit of expertise in my new hobby. I'd been planning the excursion for a couple of months.

If there were a service that shipped, say, five likely candidates to a showroom near me, then shipped back the four I didn't take, it would probably have been cheaper overall. Zappos is heading that direction in shoes, but it isn't really convenient.

56:

Re on-site manufacturing. In addirion to items that are to big for a home fabricator another reason to go to a "fabrication store" could be the skill with which the operator uses the fabricator. Although home fabricators may be able to produce servicable objects using design patterns from the internet I'd imagine that people would quickly decide that such standardised designs weren't "good enough". And so a profession of skilled fabricators would arise. After all with modern sewing machines and fabric stores people can produce totally servicable clothes at home, but there is a considerable social stigma attached to wearing them.
Another reason to seek out a "fabrication artiste" might be the materials used, they may have exotic materials on hand they can weave into the production. For instance you can create a box with a lid at home out of plastic but if you go the store they'll give it an aluminium handle on the lid.

57:

Straws in the wind. Local housing estate (1950's- originally a council estate) has a short row of shops, in the 80's/90's corner shop became a betting shop, lost the Post Office, local hardware and so forth around half of shops were left empty. Recently the nearby local pub was converted to convenience store (Not one of big names surprisingly) stocking a wide range of foodstuffs plus other 'Oh damn I need...' items. A Pharmacy moved into one of the stores and appears to be thriving. However no Post Office.

Local town. High Street has an increasing number of charity shops but this cannot be sustained. Also a consequence of one of last government's innovations (Full business rates payable on commercial property even if property empty) meant a couple of smaller landlords have had properties occupied on ZERO rent for - in one case - four years already. It now makes Fiscal sense to flatten empty industrial units, but what about High Street

Expect to see shop space converted to dwellings? Who would live there? Also those who are hanging on are appealing their business rate assessments. Expect more shops to fall vacant as leases come to an end. While I cannot see wholesale demolition I could see the retails area being gutted (Business rate exemption on properties not currently in an occupiable state!) Possibly as a precursor to whatever comes next.

58:

To misquote someone, the futures here it's just unevenly distributed. In Britain there are several trends in Retail.

The drift out of town centres has been resisted by government. You will see no more out of town mega malls in the UK, the UK only has 9 such centres at the moment, most of mall building has been in town. The main growth in out of town retailing has been big box stores and retail sheds.

While the growth in such centres has been restricted, many have restructured so that there are far fewer bulky good occupiers and many more fashion stores than there used to be.

It's the growth in the size of supermarkets and their increase in non food retailing that has damaged smaller centres the most. The supermarkets have free parking while the towns have got ever more restrictive and expensive for parking. What chance the independent card shop, dry cleaners, newsagent, small book store when people can get most of these purchase with the weekly shop.


At the same time people have proved more willing to travel further distances to go to a bigger retailing centre with better choice.

A fashion retailers used to need to 200 shops to get 80% in the UK. They'd often trade from units of just 1,500 to 2,500 sq ft. In the last decade the chains have been switching to bigger units that hold their full ranges of goods. Nexts' standard unit is now 20,000 sq ft, in towns where it wants to remain it is dumping it's old units and upgrading. The same can be seen elsewhere. A modern retailer might only need 80 or so larger units these days to get the same penetration.

The result of these trends is that the big centres have grown ever larger with new flashy in town malls with their double height units and grand arcades, while those suburban high streets that used to have Dorothy Perkins and Woolies have slid into kebabs and sunbeds.

Retailers are thinking all time about moving to the showcase model of trying out products in theatrical settings while a large percentage of sales are driven by the Web. The department store chains are seeing big upticks in click and collect.

Chains are looking at their own web operations from home delivery to click and collect. Customers who are familiar to a retailers cut may risk home delivery, especially when they can take it back to a store if they don't like it.

Pure web retailers are just fast mail order, fine if it's small and can fitted through your letter box. But once you discover that they claim you weren't in, even though you waited in all day not even going to the toilet so you would not miss it and then learn that the local delivery depot is 30 mile drive away(office hours only) then home delivery can pall.

Retail is often a tactile experience, you often want to try it on or hold it or examine before purchase. So the web can not do everything. Retailers that use the web properly will not need so many stores though.

Shopping is likely to continue these trends. The big cities, the popular tourist towns and the local towns centres of wealthy areas will remain brimming with shops.

Other towns will contract the number of shopping streets. Historical buildings will be the easiest to convert back to residential. Plenty of towns have already done this, when new malls have reshaped their town centres. Over time secondary streets contract and redevelop. Office blocks or apartment blocks sprout or an historic street becomes entirely residential.

Many old villages used that now have one or two shops used to have a dozen. it's not until you see old pictures that you realise the changes.

General retailers will change but still exist in some form, it's the specialist shops that face the greatest challange. If you are looking for that one item then, it's the web you turn to. People who used to open small stores just need to trade over the web these days selling their specialist dolls, rare books, car parts for cars no longer sold, etc etc etc. Why pay the rents and local taxes when you can do it from a storage unit. Some of these stores will survive where a high number of leisure shoppers congregate, which in Britain translates as historic towns such as York, Chester or Chichester.

59:

Yes, it's a relatively high-density Victorian residential area, with one main shopping street through the middle, which is *not* the main through route for traffic. But there's also a good bus service, a local park on the river with an annual festival, the local brewer invests in its pubs... luck and supportive planning officers and dedicated small business people. If it was easy it would be ubiquitous, and the main town centre is not nearly as attractive most of the time. It does have a good market though.

60:

Labor cost of "shop assistants" is low.

Not necessarily. The UK was a minimum wage; £6.08/hour for over-21s. If you run a retail establishment that opens for 80 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, that's going to set you back a whisker under £25,300/year per pair of boots on the shop floor.

(Obviously an individual isn't going to be working there 80 hours/week, they're only going to be working part-time or regular full-time hours; but if you want to open from 8am to 8pm six days a week and from 10am to 6pm on a slow day, that's eighty hours. And there's no point paying exorbitant city-centre rent and business rates if your shop isn't going to open for as long as possible. I haven't looked at business rent in Edinburgh lately, but 10-15 years ago office space on 5-year leases could be had for between £8-30 per year per square foot, depending on whether or not this included support services like security/secretarial: or in other words around £100-300 for a cubicle drone's workspace. Assuming retail space costs the same (minus the support costs), a small shop unit would rent for on the order of £10K-20K/year.)

Moreover, if you're a retail manager you don't trust a minimum-wage drone to be on the shop floor on their own -- too much risk of stock pilferage/theft. So you realistically need two of them on duty at any given time, at which point you're up to a minimum wage bill of £50K/year.

£50K/year will cover a fair job-lot of automation, especially if the automation can reduce stock pilferage/shoplifting/other problems.

61:

People are moving into cities. This is crossgenerational - it's no longer an aspiration to move out to the M25 belt, and at the same time, a lot of the boomers want to cash out their capital gain and move to something more manageable that's also nearer some fun. And there are push factors - heating and motoring costs, plus you probably don't want to be the last swingers in Green Swimmingpool, FL.

(How much they'll get for the property back in the suburbs is another matter.)

If the people move there, the money must move with them. I expect a lot of high street hipsterisation - much to the horror of hipsters - as you can't really outsource a cafe, and a lot of the urban re-colonisers are looking for things other than chain stores.

My hometown has grown a frightening number of hairdressers lately. This is a combination of chain stores going belly up, a combination of the large retiree population growing and the ones who bought barns in the Dales moving into town to avoid driving on icy mountain roads with 70-ish eyesight in Yorkshire winter light, and the special role of hairdressing in a recession economy. Basically, you can get all the supplies you need on wholesale credit, you can do a local community college course on government funding, and if the business doesn't work, well, that's three months or so out of the house but in the warm and with your girlfriends, and no-one has ever got in trouble with the job centre for starting a small business (as long as you tell'em, but then that's another story).

62:

Wal-Mart offers this also, free shipping when you order something at walmart.com and have it shipped to the store, they e-mail you when the product arrives. So if the clientele of a store want something that isn't there, the store gets a second chance at a sale.

63:

Hmm, that's one mangled sentence.

I was surprised a few months ago when I noticed that one of my local Turkish corner shops in a fairly grotty bit of north London had installed a giant plasma TV near the till, streaming the views from 8 CCTV cameras. With a read-out of the current bitrate on each one. The values implied that they'd also put in a gigabit LAN:-)

64:

"not to mention a hostile planning environment (it's very hard to get permission for a new IKEA or similar-sized store in the UK)."

On what evidence are you basing this assertion? My strong impression is that the planning environment is loaded heavily in favour of the wealthy superstore chain and against the local authority: the local authority can't afford to keep rejecting planning applications, but the superstore chain can afford to keep making them.

65:

So.... entirely generic thoughts without knowing either location:

Town Centre:
Option a) get a big shopping centre developer in, flatten the town centre, big shopping mall, you survive at the expense of your character, but drive all other local towns under. You become the regional shopping centre.
Option B) Town centre probably has too much retail floor space. Which streets can be saved? Maybe keep the high street, but shrink the ends of it, encourage secondary retail streets to redevelop as housing, welcome conversion to non-retail uses in the areas you want to keep (restaurants, cafes, small businesses as well).

Try and get residential densities up, welcome new flat developments. Try and get something which generates footfall other than shopping - cinema, theatre, sixth-form college, art gallery, tourist attraction, office development (local councils which move their own offices to out of town business parks then talk about saving the town centre should have their leaders strung from the rafters for failure to tie together town planning and their own estates strategy)

Try and make it nice so people choose to come and potter, they'll spend money almost as a side effect. You want it to be where the suburban mums come to meet their friends on weekdays when it would otherwise be dead, and where the commuter off the train from GenericBigCity stops for a pint with a friend on his way back to his suburban house.

Local housing estate parade of shops: Has it just too many shops? - redevelop half of it into something else, preferably something that will help the other half survive (not necessarily residential, but something.)

I remain amazed at the amount of significant areas (often really prosperous) without a pub, but I think the pubcos have a lot to answer for in terms of extracting all the money out of the business so the pub itself is so starved of investment it becomes totally unattractive to anyone to visit. In some locations this could be deliberate, once the pub goes under they can argue it is unviable and get planning permission to turn it into a house which is then worth more than the site was as a pub.

66:

I'm curious about those numbers.

In the states, even paying someone minimum wage isn't the total cost of their employment -- even if there's no health plan, there's still employer-paid taxes. Is that not the case in the UK?

(I can never remember the exact numbers, but have it mentally categorized as about equal payments for social security by employer and employee, and then one or more unemployment insurance paid for by the employer.)

67:

Surely what's killing pubs is supermarkets selling discount booze?

Colleges are a good point. The closure of the Thames Valley University (Formerly a further education college) campus in Slough may well have been a significant factor in killing the town's retail. Especially the loss of the record and book shops.

68:

Ikea could also move to a city centre location. They do offer delivery. It was ideal for us as we bought large wooden panels from them for a bedroom that would not fit in a car.

OK its not an instant experience, but it works.

69:

There's quite a nice diagram here.

As far as I know, tax, employers NI contributions and employees NI contributions all go into the same pot.

70:

No, johnny99.1 @ 63 is right on the matter of pubs. The biggest of the tenanted pub chains is a property speculator at heart. They charge high rents, and tie the tenants to them and then charge more for the beer than the tenants could get if they were free of tie. If the pub goes bust as a result, well it's "unviable" and gets sold off for housing (though why someone would like to live somewhere with no facilities like pubs is beyond me). With no pub in the area, well all you have is cheap booze from the supermarkets and no social context in which to drink it.

It's crap for the tenant, it's crap for the brewers (who also get squeezed) and it's crap for drinkers, but great for the pubco, who got the pubs cheap off the breweries to begin with when the government decided to limit the number of pubs breweries (but no other sort of company) could own.

71:

Yes, the employer has National Insurance to pay on top of that minimum wage. (See Stephen Early's link for details.) And at that wage (roughly £24,000 per year for a full time job) you may be startled to discover that 15-16,000 of it is subject to income tax at 25% and National Insurance contributions at (I think) 7% -- income tax cuts in at a lower level in the UK than in the USA, and the higher rates cut in earlier too (at around £40,000 for the 40% bracket and £150,000 for the 50% bracket). But most of the employment cost is taken from the gross wages; the employer's NI contribution is a couple of percent on top.

The employer gets hit for other taxes that don't apply to the employee. Business rates (a real estate tax based on the value of the premises), VAT (sales tax collected by the business), and of course tax on their net profits (although profits can be minimized by throwing them at shareholders, employees via wage increases or bonuses, or investment in operating equipment).

72:
Several comments: first, don't confuse the effects of the current economic slump with the effects of technological obsolescence. The difference is that when the economic slump ends, so will it's effects on retail. Technological obsolescence is forever, however.

I agree that we're seeing two effects - technological and related cultural changes such as the move to Amazon, etc. and an economic slump set of effects.

But I'm not so sure that the effects on retail will be gone. You can pick a load of stores that have closed. You can read the last week's news in the UK and see 4 more shopping chains going into receivership/administration/closing outlets and laying off staff. Yes, many of the staff will be re-employed elsewhere. While that's personally relevant to them, it's less important to what the high street will look like in a decade.

Some of the vacated properties will be snapped up, either by other shops with poorer local premises (happened here when Woolies went under and Boots moved in to their shop). Others will be left vacant - which is also happening here. If they stay vacant there's a chance they'll be picked up as new retail outlets when the recovery starts. But there's also a chance they'll be picked up by a charity shop, a fast-food franchise, a discount shop, a property developer who puts something odd in there and city-centre housing in upstairs.

None of those are particularly easy to shift once they're there and all of them change the nature of the high street in various ways. OK, at first glance a charity shop is still a shop, so is a fast-food outlet, but the ways we use them are different, the impact is different (more litter from a fast-food outlet than a chemists for example), and if brown-field housing gets in, lots of changes - starting with out of hours access for one.

It's hard to be sure what the historians will say in a century's time, but it wouldn't surprise me to see them pointing to the first world depression 2008-2015 (or so) as a great turning point in the shopping and cultural environment of (at least) the UK with some form of switch to teleshopping for many products.

73:

If it was that easy the current government wouldn't be trying so hard to relax the rules and there wouldn't be quite such a row about it going on.

In England (don't know the system at all in Scotland) a lot depends on the local plan/local development framework, what it says and what if its up to date.

The media loves a narrative of plucky local authorities either fighting Tesco off or surrendering, but in reality if the local plan policies permit the development the supermarket wins on appeal (and gets awarded costs) so the local authority might as well roll over.

If it's policies aren't conducive to the proposed development and the local authority refuses it, then its dead. But the local authority needs to confident it's right in terms of its own policies.

The problem is if the relevant local planning policy docs are out of date/badly written/non-existent/actively promoted that sort of development because it seemed a good idea at the time. Tesco's lawyers get paid a lot more than the people who wrote them in the first place to look for places where they WILL win on appeal.

These sorts of documents are nearly unreadable and a lot depends on obscure policies, whether the local councillors who signed them off originally understood the implications is a good question. The best local authorities wrote them well and were well led by politicians who understood what they were doing. The rest....

74:

Hey Charlie, instead of blogging about irrelevancies like commerce and gadgetry, why don't you challenge yourself and your readers with a post containing some content of a more spiritual nature? This nihilistic age of shopping and technology is, I submit, passing fast, and a new age of religion and tribalism is approaching. If you want to be a real 21st century futurist, rather than a 20th century nostalgist, may I politely suggest that you open your eyes to the real trajectory of civilization as we march forward into a new dark age?

75:

To add a data point from Germany. Here the postal service did install so called 'Packstations', which are automated packet pickup devices. One can sign up for this service, and packets are then delivered to a point close by, where you can pick it up anytime you want.
In my case, the local station is next to the nearest super market and it instantly turns a rather small super market into an outlet for most Internet deliverable goods. The big box retailers have therefore to compete with an shop which is close by and has wider selection of goods (at least if I can wait one day).
On the other hand, it changes also what I am ordering over the Internet. It becomes possible to order small and unimportant parts, since I neither have to wait all day for delivery, nor do I have to go to the post office to pick it up.

76:

Hey Charlie, instead of blogging about irrelevancies like commerce and gadgetry, why don't you challenge yourself and your readers with a post containing some content of a more spiritual nature?

Because I'm a materialist atheist who prefers to talk about things that actually exist, rather than superstitious nonsense?

Actually, I have talked about possible 21st century ideologies here. But religion ... meh. If we are heading for a new dark age, I trust that the last person out of the door will leave the lights burning until the generator dies for lack of maintenance. But I don't think so. The future belongs to those national or trans-national or sub-national groupings who don't succumb to superstition.

77:

Alex -- sound a lot like the town I live in (in fact, its main street really is called "High Street.") The downtown/High Street shops are a mix of bookstores, restaurants, art galleries, and health food stores, while the supermarkets, hardware stores, convenience stores, laundromats, etc. are all out on the periphery -- to get there, you pretty much have to drive. If you're willing to drive about 30 miles, there are Walmarts, etc.

As a reporter, I cover town council and planning commission meetings where the long-term shape of the downtown area is a constant topic: the general consensus is that we're going to have to bring in more tourists to keep downtown alive, and a lot of the town's long-range planning is aimed that way.

Meanwhile, to buy a set of guitar strings, I either drive 60+ miles (round trip) or go online. To buy a music CD outside a very narrow range of tastes, ditto. Computer equipment, ditto. With gas prices what they are, that kind of trip is pretty hard to justify. (If you go to Delaware, about a 70 mile round trip, there's no sales tax -- so you can break even on the gas if you buy about $150 worth of goods.)

A lot of this has happened in the last ten years. We used to have two music stores, one with a decent selection of CDs and even some vintage vinyl. We had a couple of places you could buy a computer. (We still have five bookstores, but that's pretty much an aberration; I didn't have that many within the same range when I lived in Brooklyn.) So it looks as if the "boutiquing" of High Street is well under way.

78:

Judging from the situation in Vienna/AT, the high street shops won't go away anytime soon - it's still all full to bursting, and just the really big chains operating on very thin margins at the best of times struggling. And the electronics retailers. Everything else is packed, and not just before christmas.
My guess as to why they're packed is that a) the high streets are well separated between semi-luxury and the plebes, and that b) it's the crowd experience and the see-and-be-seen that really draws the people. Neither of which I see going away soon, at least for lower and high class (the middle is something else entirely, but policy seems bound on destroying middle class anyway).

One thing I predict for a 5-10 year timeframe is webshops actually letting the customer choose which carrier they want to use, though the big ones will probably limit that choice to 3 or thereabouts. If necessary, with legislation.
Related to that I expect some legislation wrt. work conditions and minimum wages for the couriers (this is a pure franchise business right now, every courier is his own company. This is not sustainable).

79:

Here in the States there is no local or state taxes on Internet sales. There is no way a brick store can compete. There was suppose to be taxes after Internet sales got a good start. Last I heard lobbing made sure it has not happened.

80:

I understand that you're a materialist Charlie, but surely you'll agree that "superstitious nonsense" controls billions of minds and animates armies here on the material plane, and in that sense clearly exists. An atheist may deny the reality of religion, but that won't prevent him from dying when a holy warrior's bomb explodes in his midst. All I'm trying to say is that the materialists' fixation upon the material, rather than on the beliefs which shape the material, is a foolish form of nihilism which blind secular civilization to the magnitude of the threats they face.

81:

Is the standard of vegetable retailing massively different between the US and the UK? Looking at the list given by Bacchus (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, carrots, bell peppers, jalepeno peppers, green onions, lemons, limes, apples, bananas, pears) I would expect to be able to buy most of those in decent condition on any given day in my local convenience shop (Spar corner shop - to give an impression of the size, they normally have 2 people working there at any given time, and it's open about 16 hours a day), almost all of them in the somewhat larger Coop or Tesco local (either of which would have about 6-8 staff working at any given time) and all of them in any of the "big" supermarkets. However, I'm not sure which difference is key between rural USA and mid-size UK city.

Here, while there are definitely problems with modern retailing ("Tescopoly"), rotting vegetables on the supermarket shelves is not one of them.

82:

This is your yellow card. Shut up about religion and stop trying to derail the conversation. Subsequent comments on this topic will be deleted.

83:

Rural USA is something that simply doesn't exist in the USA unless you drive a long way up into the Scottish Highlands or the arse-end of Wales. (Think in terms of "towns" the size of large villages scattered at 20-40 mile intervals.)

84:

Go look up 'Food Deserts'. It's scary.

85:

Sure - I guess my question is more whether it's a UK vs US thing, or a urban US vs rural US thing. While I've driven through rural Kentucky, I never tried to do any grocery shopping there. (For the same reason, I don't know what vegetable retailing is like in the Scottish highlands either!)

86:

TBP

I always thought it was the job of religion to blind civilisation to the magnitude of the threats it faces? Indeed, isn't it usually THE threat, implicitly?

While the fall into, and climb back out of, superstition is a perennial cycle - what we are about to go through is a shift in how civilisation works. Energy to easily move large distances is decreasing, populations are steadily increasing, environment is degrading - something's going to give and switch - but its unlikely to be to soporifics.

Dragging it back to the subject in hand - the high street was an invention of population, coupled with lack of mobility. Superficially the future scenario favours truly local shops (walkable to high street), except that online ordering and delivery routes can make for better economics.

My guess is the future of the high street is to be formed where they are truly local (most aren't once commercial properties forced out people) and significantly automated (cutting manpower costs), offering what the virtual doesn't work for. They will also be social and potentially more C2C than the existing B2C - stalls rather than shops.

Maybe they will consist of 'spiritual centres' for the huddled masses (cf Snowcrash) - but really I'm not sure that the cults have the capability to win out in Europe anymore. 'Spiritual' tends to the twin of 'TOWIE' - a narcissistic and vapid feel-good drug for the pointless.

87:

Large US cities are on a par with or better shopping environments than British cities. More people within shopping-trip range (because the cities are more populous) means you get more and more interesting shops. The UK only has a handful of urban areas with over a million people (London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds-Bradford, the Scottish Central Belt, Newcastle Metro); the USA has many more, and some that are more populous than London.

But once you get out into the sticks it's a different matter entirely.

88:

Costs are broadly comparable in the US. Since you do not include capital costs of automation in the store, nor personnel to manage the system or stocking, or potentially security, I am assuming that your vision is much more minimalist than mine for such a system.

Perhaps you might elaborate on how you envision such a store?

89:

I agree with kbob (#51) that the social role of the town center will be increasingly important, and I'd note that teenagers are a key audience for this--they're the people who are old enough to want a place to hang out independently, but not old enough to have their own apartments. In Washington DC, a huge portion of the crowd in Chinatown on Friday and Saturday nights consists of teenagers from all over the city.

90:

To clarify, Chinatown is probably DC's biggest and most active entertainment district--theaters (movie and live), restaurants, bars, etc,--and it gets quite busy at peak times.

91:

Yes, I've read articles about food deserts, though I thought that the term was used more about run down parts of big cities rather than rural areas. (I've also seen articles that suggest that the actual distance from a poor part of Detroit to a shop that has the sort of selection that I take for granted in a mid-size UK city is generally relatively small - but if you can't afford a car, a few miles is still a very long distance to transport food for an entire family.)

From Bacchus's post, I got the impression that even once you've driven to a town that's big enough to offer a choice between Walmart, chain supermarkets, independent local food markets and discount grocers, the quality of vegetables on offer was still crap.

92:

You're probably thinking of something a lot bigger; over here, a corner shop is typically the ground floor of a family-sized dwelling (i.e. a building a third the size of an American house) -- think in terms of converting your living room into a shop. (Assuming you had no garden/yard and shared load-bearing walls with your neighbours to either side.)

93:

DJR, I can't speak to the US versus UK thing or even very well to the urban versus rural thing in the US, since I've never been to the UK and it's been decades since I lived in a town of more than about 30k people in the US.

But I have traveled fairly widely in the US, and in my experience a convenience store (makes most of its money from fuel and smokes and booze and snacks and hot coffee) will either sell no fruit and veg at all, or they will have a minimal display of the six or eight most basic items (lettuce, a few tomatoes, a few fruits). The corner stores you're describing in the UK don't sound like the same sort of thing.

It's also important to realize that in vast swathes of the US, fresh fruit and veg are not big parts of the daily diet. It's hard to unscrew the chickens-and-eggs reason for that -- do people not eat them because nobody sells them, or does nobody sells them because few want to eat them?

94:

The local plan for the village where I used to live had to include so much new housing.

The plan ended up with it downhill from the sewage plant. We were told that this wasn't something that was considered at this stage of the process.

95:

I live near three small towns (a mile from one, 8 miles to the next, 15 miles the other direction to the third.)

The local one has about 3500 people and one IGA supermarket (IGA is an ancient and failing rural franchise supermarket chain). I call it "Stinky Old Mr. Mark's Stinky Old IGA" after the guy who owns it. I don't shop there if I can avoid it -- it's the kind of place where they leave half the lights off to save on electric costs, and rub out the expiration dates before putting the expired items back on the shelf at full price. There are also two dollar stores in this town, they sell basic shelf-stable groceries and have a refrigerator case for eggs and milk and cheese but no fruit or veg of any kind. This town used to have three supermarkets, but declined the opportunity to get a Walmart when one was offered, and saw all of its local trade vanish when Walmarts opened in both nearby towns.

8 miles away, the town has 5,000 people and one Walmart. This is an old-style Walmart with no fresh produce section, but it does have a large freeze case and sells frozen items along with the dairy case items. That town also features a discount grocer (mostly canned goods, all store brands and food factory overruns, nothing in nationally-advertised brands) that also has a produce section. They have good prices but a very limited selection of fresh stuff, and whether that stuff is edible depends on how recently they unloaded the truck from Mexico. That town also has two supermarkets, one tiny independent that has poor selection and quality, one larger regional chain with a good deli selection (prepared hot foods) but with the worst produce manager on earth. At one point I noticed an impact splash on a wall where somebody had thrown a tomato and let the juice run down the wall; six weeks later, nobody had washed that impact mark off the wall, there were still bits of the rotten tomato stuck to the painted drywall.

Fifteen miles in the other direction, in a town of 7,000 people, there's a better Walmart, one with a full produce section. That town also has a fully-featured, well-run regional chain supermarket. Those two stores offer the best chance of finding decent produce, but both of them are prone to having old/wrinkled/rotten items, or simply not having staples you'd expect (like tomatoes) on any given day.

About 50 minutes away in a couple different directions are towns of 15k and 30k people, with more options but still basically small-town quality. The closest genuine modern supermarkets with well-managed produce sections (where nothing is rotten, most stuff is ripe, and the selection is decent) are about 1.5 to 2 hours away, in our choice of two different urban centers (metro areas around a million people each). Both of them also have Whole Foods and other specialty grocers where quality is a management priority. But it takes a whole day outing (usually we catch a restaurant meal and a theater movie, then go shopping) to take advantage of those amenities. And the gasoline cost of that trip is not inconsiderable.

96:

In France and Germany (and in some other parts of Europe, from what I have read) there is an incredibly strong, deeply rooted tradition of market days in small and medium sized towns. On market day itinerant merchants set up their mobile stalls in the big town square and sell just about anything that can fit in a large van or trailer, or both.

This has been going on for many centuries, long, long before the birth of shopping streets lined with permanent shops. I suspect it will still be going on long, long after the disappearance of shopping streets lined with permanent shops.

97:

It suddenly occured to me that there is a small corner of North America which has the equivalent:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depanneur

I always loved the comparison with Harrod's in London.

98:

Basically, the national planning guidelines in force. And the fact that nobody's managed to build a big out-of-town shopping centre in quite some time. Meadowhall, Trafford Park, Lakeside, Bluewater, the UK IKEAn - it's a story of the 1990s. Brent Cross opened in 1976.

99:

I'd expect vintage records and guitar strings to be about the last men standing in the high street. That and fix-your-computer; given that Apple and Dell and Lenovo and HP practically build them to order, selling hardware ought to be online.

100:

The traditional retail model has plenty of room to move in it - a company like Zara moves from design to showroom very quickly and is price competitive.

101:

Full-time employment in the UK is typically 1700 to 1800 hours per year. More in retail, subject to a 48-hour weekly limit which the employee can [be required to] waive. There's at least 5.6 weeks annual paid leave, and an average of about a week paid sick leave. So, a person over 21 earning minimum wage is on an annual wage of 10-14K.

Imagine a staff member paid minimum wage for 38 hours per week. They earn 12000 annually. If they have the usual tax code etc, and no other income, they will pay 1477 in tax (573 in national insurance, 904 in tax), and their employer will pay an additional 680. So the cost to the employer is 12680, of which the government gets 2157 and the employee the remaining 10523. They actually man the till about 1750 hours a year, so the cost per hour to the employer is about 7.50. Less if you can get under-21s, much less if you get family members to do it, or do it yourself.

102:

Wonderful article and discussion. It is hard to think of a street corner without a storefront, outside of a restaurant. The internet is a huge vacuum cleaner sucking up retail like dirt on a rug. Life in the U.S. is filled with convenience stores, already. History in retail here has almost always been, while not exactly non-existent, like a huge combine harvester.

But I like the idea that there might be a resurgence in mom and pops. They will have to be a different breed from those of former years. They will have to compete for the shopper who wants the finger-fast shopping offered on the internet. Storefront survival will depend on attraction connected as much to the internet and social media as it is to the street.

Here in the U.S. people are concerned with the loss of manufacturing as well as renewal resources. I think we will see a growing number of mom and pops that will offer American made green products.

No matter the changes to the street corner, ingenuity will flourish and I feel the storefront will as well.

103:

One more thing about retail...
Over the last three years I've been to Barcelona, Vienna, and Nice. I think I'd be ready to move back to an urban center if I could easily get to a market like the Boqueria, or the Naschmarkt. Nice's old town is a little more of a tourist trap (heck the whole city is built around tourism, something not true of BCN or VIE), but the shops there are still worth browsing more than Chicago's State Street by a long shot (bad example --Wicker Park is a bit closer but still a long way off).

Where an I heading with this? It ain't the High Street that's the weak spot, it's the neighborhood stores. Find me a boulangerie or a cheese shop in the burbs, please.

104:

I’m not sure that online shopping and technological development will be as destructive to our modern idea of retail shopping as might be believed. What’s your famous line Charlie – the near future will be “90% of it is just like today, 9% is stuff that is on the drawing boards, and 1% is unutterably strange and alien and unexpected.” Perhaps 10% of stores will close, but those stores will be the ones that were operating on the brink.

I’m not even sure whether retail stores will need to aggressively adapt to new technologies. I work in a bookshop in Australia located in a shopping mall, we suffer from the same maladies as every bookshop in the world – the emergence of e-readers and discount shipping websites. To make matters worse our store hasn’t changed its business/management practices in the five years I’ve been there. We should be barely scraping by, yet the last half-a-decade has been the best on record. I put it down to the fact that people like to hold something in their hands, and gift someone something a little more meaningful than a gift card or, even worse, an e-gift card. Even customers who are Internet-savvy and frequently use e-readers or make purchases online continue to buy books from our bookshop.

What I’ve noticed is that the biggest change at my bookshop hasn’t been the fact that we offer e-books or that we have more cameras installed, rather the most significant change has been in the way we handle our physical stock. We have expanded the range we offer, the employees are more knowledgeable about the stock, we have a dozen subscriptions to different book search engines and the delivery time of specially ordered books has decreased from three weeks to a week-and-a-half (In the part of Australia I’m from a week-and-a-half delivery time is faster than Amazon’s priority delivery). This development is completely rational, if your store exists because people like the physicality of reading then you should go out of your way to enhance the process by which you get that physical book into a customer’s hand. In line with this I think the development of a distributed, more individual publishing and printing industry are likely to have the most dramatic impact on my bookshop over the next decade. I can foresee a direct line from the customer to an automated printing press located in an industrial park within a 30 minutes drive from the point of sale, or better yet to a printing press in the stock room.

105:

One thing our local corner shop is starting to do, and my LBS has been doing for a while is accepting deliveries for you. The LBS is tossing up a rental bike trailer to facilitate this, but at the moment almost everything is small parcels that don't need the trailer. They also have a policy of throwing parcels up on to the mezzanine after a couple of days, which encourages people to pick them up promptly. The next step will be charging for the service (currently the LBS only provides it to regular customers, and unofficially).

If you can get stuff delivered to somewhere within easy walking distance of home that's open before you go to work and after you get home, that makes delivery of just about anything easy.

In Melbourne the inner suburbs are in a vicious fight over densification, and the suburbs where that fight has been won are doing quite well. Where the NIMBYs win it's all closing down as through traffic volumes increase and clearways sprout, killing casual parking. We live ~200m from the main road, train line and tram lines. So we have some local shops and the progression is very visible. The big cheap/warehouse shops with factory seconds and direct imported stuff are closing and the cafes, chains and specialty shops are moving in.

Which means we'll be out of here within five years, because we won't be able to afford to stay. More accurately, we'll have to start shopping increasingly further out because we can't/won't pay the local shop prices. At which point it's easier to move, and take advantage of the improved bike paths to the city to keep our commuting times the same.

106:

Okay, this is just truly amazing -- now I understand what the "PAYE" referenced in a spam I got today was about. And that was the first time (that I recall) I got spam about that. So the timing is pretty awesome there.

107:

And if you are too poor own own a computer, a credit card and internet access you pay more and more. And have it coming for being poor.

108:

Haven't seen it yet but I'm sure it's just a question of time before you start to see larger high street shop properties repurposed as affordable apartment multiplexes

In many urban areas in the US This is very hard to do. Especially putting apartments over stores in older buildings. The building codes, especially those related to fire safety, cause the remodeling to be very expensive relative to building on an empty lot. As an example most people want windows that are more than a foot or two wide and that open but these are considered a fire hazard.

109:

Following up on #89, the future for many shopping malls will be extended evening hours to attract teenagers.

Yes, birthrates are down, family sizes are shrinking, the west is doomed, doomed! The proportion of the population as a whole will drop, but in any major city there will still be a sufficient number of teenagers who haven't moved out of home yet. And thanks to increasing prosperity they have decent spending power.

Sure, this generation is growing up with Internet shopping. They will still want A) to go somewhere where their parents aren't watching and B) socialize with other teens and meet members of the appropriate sex. Shopping malls have fast food and sugary drinks; music, DVDs, and cheap fashion for impulse buys; a roof and air conditioning against unpleasant weather. If the mall is next to a public transport interchange, it can become a teen magnet.

110:

On the other hand, bananas is bananas

Ugh, no. For me there are 4 major brand grocery choice within a few miles. One sells mostly eat today or in the next 3 to 6 days bananas. Another sells mostly ripe in a day or two. The other is all over as to what's out on any day. And the last has only excellent organic at precious metal prices.

111:

An interesting vision of shopping 10 years from now based on someone living in the suburbs of NJ. 

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/perlow/retail-in-2021-when-clicks-have-buried-bricks/19344?tag=search-results-rivers;item1

And an interview with the author of a history of A&P. The company that was basically the first super marker chain in the US. Lots of interesting information on how the local stores tried to stop them over the years. Things like laws saying that food for resale had to be purchased from local wholesalers. 

http://www.npr.org/2011/08/23/139761274/how-the-a-p-changed-the-way-we-shop

112:

But there's nothing inevitable about it; big companies also have administrative overheads that a small family hole-in-the-wall operation doesn't have.

Love them or hate them WalMart works hard to reduce this overhead. Almost anything that doesn't require a physical body locally is done out of HQ. Prefeably via automated systems. Store temp is controlled remotely. And a couple of years ago when a store I was in lost their link for about 1/2 hour almost nothing worked. All cash registers were down. All demo TVs had snow on the screen. Etc.

113:

Here in the States there is no local or state taxes on Internet sales.

Ugh, sorry, but you're wrong.

The fight is over who collects them and when, not over if they exits. And folks who says they dont have to pay the tax because they bought it "on the net" are just tax scofflaws.

If you state or locality has a sales tax for in person purchases the the tax is owed for net purchases.

Would you like to talk to some businesses who didn't pay then got audited? A $30K bill for the previous 5 years purchase is not trivial for a company with 20 workers or less.

114:

From Bacchus's post, I got the impression that even once you've driven to a town that's big enough to offer a choice between Walmart, chain supermarkets, independent local food markets and discount grocers, the quality of vegetables on offer was still crap.

I don't think his situation is typical. But it is not unheard of either. A lot of what you find in the produce section of a grocery in terms of quality depends a lot on the local comprtition and what excites the local population.

I've lived in KY, Pittsburgh, CT, and NC. And spent a lot of time in many other areas on both business and family trips. And if I'm going to be somewhere more than a single night I usually hit up a local grocery for a collection of things to have in the hotel. And trust me, quality and selection is incrediblied arrived. Even from one side of a city to another.

115:

Competition

Varied

116:

LONG thread!

OK
Phil K @ 16
Small shops
There seems to be a revival (in London @ least) of semi-neighbourhood small shops "round the corner" off the main drag.
We've got one here, and it's lovely - inculding a franchise (SPAR) that does the best bespoke "groceries" you can imagine, and a very good butcher, and ....
Meanwhile what was the main street is wall-to-wall estate agents. The street market is in decline, but the Sunday stall-market (top end of same site) is slowly growing/improving.
SEE ALSO: john @ 31, johnny99 @ 53 & alain @ 96
Yes, stall-makets are definitely growing again, here.

Megpie71 @ 20
Yes, but you are in WESTERN Australia!
End of long supply line with a dispersed population.
NOT a goo scenario - ever, actually.

Charlie @ 25
AND the revival (at last!) of railways.
Scotland has led here, and England appears to be catching up. It's only a matter of time now, before we get re-openeings, as well. ( I don't count Watford-Croxley here)

Nancy @ 33
The problem with printers/RepRap is the cumulative 3-d error in fabrications.
It's both a measurement and a control and a feedback problem, and not easy to solve IF you want 25-micron-or smaller both accuracy AND precision.

eloise @ 39
Very interesting video clip (from the "Telegraph" !) which can be seen HERE showing a city of 2 million, now down to 80 000 & shrinking.

b hurt @ 41
YES! - went to sales three days ago and got a very nice (55% off) "waistcoat" for outdoor use in winter - but I went "on spec" and sucessfully "hunted" something good.

Tim Hall @ 67
Surely what's killing pubs is supermarkets selling discount booze?
NO
Stupid, greedy evil pubcos, deliberately raising rents, and squeezing out competition.
A genuine gross monopoly of the worst sort.
IF you can get a non-tied "house" you can still make a lot of money in ale, but that proviso is a difficult one to meet.
See also Feorag's comments @ 70, with which I also concur.

Bacchus @ 95
That's horrible!
I foresee a trend back to allotment-keeping, especiually with uemployment/part-time employment eyc. REALLY FRESH home-grown is amazingly rewarding, if hard work sometimes. Healthy too.

See also @114 - the comment about lack of quality in food - which brings us back to the local markets with fresh, good produce, at the top of this long post!

d brown @ 107
Scary, but true - happening here already

david l @ 112
Which suggests a very simple way of crashing Wal-Mart if you don't like them ....

General problem:
Ever-upward business premises rents. In a time of depression! Greedy and stupid and self0defeating.
How to stop this? Suggestions, please?

Another point. If it isn't too hilly (like Edinburgh!) there is an intermediate option between the car and walking, called, erm, the bicycle!

117:

So...ever heard of anyone other than a business who actually did calculate and pay the amount owed on internet purchases?

I'm coming up with zero examples here, but you might live among the more legally upright.
See also: Ring of Gyges...

118:

One of the things I noticed on a recent visit to my home town of Clydebank was the changed nature of the local shopping center. Bearing in mind that I hadnt been in it for nearly 10 years, I could no believe the difference.

It used to be filled with all sorts of different shops, furniture, clothes, grocery, books and goodness knows what else. In fact it was a fairly good place to find most of the things you could possibly need or want. There were lots of independant small retailers too, not just the large chain store types.

Now however, its all charity shops, pound shops, discount shoe shops and discount clothes shops. There are no books shops at all. All the smaller traders are gone. Frankly there was nothing there that I personally wanted to look at much less buy. It has become a bloody wasteland of crap clothes and worse shoes. So bad in fact that it put me in mind of the gag by Douglas Adams about the Shoe/Price event horizon, though I think I may have been a little over cynical at that point.

In any case, I think there are going to be deep problems for the high street in the near future, as they seem to be hitting now. I hope not though, I hope for a turn around and an end to this recession.

119:

And if you are too poor own own a computer, a credit card and internet access you pay more and more. And have it coming for being poor.

Yes but ...

The lowest common denominator is tending towards a 4-8Gb USB memory stick, a copy of Portable Apps (free/open source) thereon, a library card (so you can use someone else's computer and internet for free/cheap rather than paying a cafe to rent one for an hour) and a bank account of some type with a debit card attached. At least, here in the UK (debit cards drawn on UK banks are mostly franchisees of Visa or Mastercard, so work de facto anywhere where a credit card works, except you have to have money in your account up front and you don't get the payment protection benefits).

Note that "a bank account of some type" is a fairly low barrier. The biggest problem is anti-money-laundering regs which require proof of identity and that you reside at an address (backed up by a couple of utility bills) -- this is murderously difficult for the temporarily homeless, for dependants, and so on because it's a vicious circle: no proof of paying bills regularly at a fixed address? No way to get a bank account ... from which to pay bills regularly at a fixed address. The flip side is that if you know what you're doing you can bootstrap your way up that ID ladder. (Mutters darkly ...)

120:

Yes, birthrates are down, family sizes are shrinking, the west is doomed, doomed! The proportion of the population as a whole will drop,

Not here in the UK.

We've been having a baby boom that kicked off in 2004 or thereabouts. We've also had a wave of emigration from eastern Europe. I expect the birth rate to drop due to current govt. policies that discriminate against the young and particularly against women (reductions in child support, closures of youth programs, that sort of thing -- all deterrents to starting a family) and the clamp-down on immigration, but even so the UK population shot up by around 2% over the past decade and is still accelerating: it's predicted to be up by 15% by 2030.

So yes, lots of teenage shoppers with no money. Also lots more elderly folks with no money (due to the Tories comprehensively fucking over the state pension system and the global financial crunch fucking over the private pensions).

121:

We can discuss how much the physical retail sector is shrinking, but we can be quite sure it is shrinking relative fast. Does it matter? Stuff changes, and the driving factor is mainly customer preferences. You could view this mainly as an improvement, although painful for those employed in the retail sector.
Some of the implications that spring to mind: 1) The retail business will require less urban space. This will probably be reused for restaurants or space where people do stuff like training centres. Some space will probably be transformed into living space as further urbanization will concentrate more and more of the population around city centres. 2) The retail business will require fewer employees outside pure logistics. Remaining service and sales oriented staff will be less location dependant, putting further pressure on salary levels. Bad news for the western middle class, they have so far made up for loosing manufacturing through moving into service industry, now they will loose parts of that also. 3) This might put more pressure on the urban transportation network. Moving from a hub and spoke logistical network to a direct point to point might be a problem in tight urban areas. We really need those pnumatic tubes. 4) As was stated in 119. This will make it even worse for those that does not have access to the banking system. For instance illegal immigrants. Those that are trapped in a cash economy will be more and more vulnerable for exploitation from those with access to a official ID and a bank account.

122:

I second Yoshi at #75
The German Packstation is an excellent idea.
No more being punished for missing a delivery (our local post office is in the basement of a supermarket with antiquated opening hours; plus you queue for ages and one of the two staff is consistently unpleasant to customers).


@ Alain #96
Where I am living in Germany I do sometimes go to my local market. I was able to find some fabulous tomatoes this past summer that cost only a little more than tasteless supermarket pap.
BUT: that's the exception that proves the rule, I fear. For the most part you're paying over the odds for the same stuff you'd get in the supermarkets: the quality is no better and you're often not buyng from the producer.


I second the various people who have talked about services: this is surely the future for a happy local high street.
One data point is my in-laws, who have a photo shop in the centre of a small German town. They do sell the occasional camera, but the internet and large electronics retailers have mostly killed that part of the business.
They do OK anyway, though, because they provide a wide range of services including branching out into photography.
It doesn't harm that they sensibly bought the house in which their business is located, thus insulating themselves from rent increases and local taxes on business rent (yes, really).


Overall I'm quite optimistic about the future of the high street. There is certainly an ongoing process of redefinion. But I think they will be more pleasant places to be in ten years than they are today. Less temples of consumption and more places of communication.

123:

Although the throngs of youngish people packing trendy watering holes in our city centres at the weekends kinda belies that, since I suspect many of them have quite small disposable income.

There is a huge housing shortage in the UK, particularly for middle/low income families and brownfield sites in town centres like empty shop premises would be an ideal place for that kind of development.

Our concept of zoning is relatively new, up until even the middle of the last century housing, shops and small scale industry all quite happily co-existed.

124:

I was wondering if it would be possible to make money by renting a shopspace, then sub-renting areas within it to the various suppliers of phones, cameras, etc. The idea being that a lot of the public still like to handle things before purchase, e.g. cameras, because buying one which fits your hand and has controls that you like is a lot better than relearing controls and continually missing the important button because it is under the wrong finger.

I can't qutie work out how you would get paid though...

There is a similar problem with clothes - until bespoke tailoring is all done by machines and becomes cheap enough, people like me have to try on our trousers and some other clothes before purchasing, because we are non-standard height and have ape arms, or different waist to hip ratio than designers think is necessary.


125:

By coincidence I was reading this the other day:

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2011/12/28/a-tale-of-two-retailers/

TL;DR There's a future in high street retail for distress purchases.

126:

I was wondering if it would be possible to make money by renting a shopspace, then sub-renting areas within it to the various suppliers of phones, cameras, etc.

Something not unlike this has been happening in retail by the back door: retailers have worked out which parts of the premises shift stock (the front tables in bookshops, the end galleys in supermarkets) and charge suppliers for the privilege of having their stock displayed prominently in these locations.

127:

I'm fascinated by jurisdictions that require easy-to-forge utility bills over more complex identity documents such as passports and driving licenses.

I tried to open a British bank account a few years ago but had awful trouble because I had been renting for a couple of years and all my utility costs were included in the rent. I offered a government document showing where the bond for my rent contract was lodged, but that wasn't as good as an electricity bill.

In France a photocopy of a utility bill is accepted where a passport or other document is not. Since no one ever checks the validity of these things I don't think it's necessary to point out to this audience how trivial it is to fabricate such documents on a home printer.

128:

"People who used to open small stores just need to trade over the web these days selling their specialist dolls, rare books, car parts for cars no longer sold, etc etc etc. Why pay the rents and local taxes when you can do it from a storage unit."

I just wish more of these places offered a way to browse the physical stock. I don't just collect books that I know about, I collect books that interest me when I encounter them, or rediscover them on a shelf. A few online vendors have been surprised when I've asked if I could come browse their stock, which while indexed had no cover images available. Every time I am able to do this I find several items that I really want. With the others, we'll never know. And with those others I hope they're generating the volume to compensate for the loss of providing that physical book interaction that so many bookish people love.

129:

We're starting to wander into Jane Jacobs territory here.

In a number of cities in the US, UK and Australia the privatisation of public spaces into shopping malls or the like which are patrolled by private security agencies means that those people who are not busy consuming get moved on. The places to sit are steadily removed until you essentially have to go to a cafe and pay for a spot. The ability to become both a part of and an observer of the passing parade is much diminished.

130:

I can see certain businesses like Maplins* or Halfords** that among other things sell components that can be bought cheaper and with more choice over the internet, but sometimes if I need to fix a computer quickly I'll take the price hit and walk 5 minutes to Maplins and take the 50% price premium just for the convenience.


On a different point, I'll be interested to see what my local area of Stokes Croft looks like in 5 years.
We've got a Tesco Local slap in the middle, but a big community backlash towards small local businesses.
Currently Tescos is still there, but the local bushinesses seem to be doing well too.

*a US equivalent would be RadioShack I think
** US equiv might be Pepboys

131:

I didn't see your yellow card before I made my own post in reply to you. My apologies - I guess I jumped the gun.

132:

Interesting.

My current abode is suburban. Three different Big-Box stores with large/quality produce sections within a 10-mile radius.

Due to local licensing scheme for selling beer/wine vs. selling distilled spirits, there are also a variety of 'party stores' which sell minimal groceries, and wide quantites of liquor/whiskey/vodka. In the rotting urban core, party stores are easier to find than grocery stores. So are fast-food joints.

In comparison: I spent a few years in a small college town. The town had formerly been a booming mining area, but population declined with the mining business. (Size of ~7000 permanent residents, ~6000 students during the school year.)

There were three grocery stores that were regional chains, one party store within walking distance of campus, and a brand-new Wal-Mart SuperCenter. That party store had a better grocery selection than any other party store I've seen; the 'walking distance to campus' factor was probably important in that regard.

I wasn't aware of regular quality issues in the produce section of any of the stores. But that may have been because I was looking for items that could be cooked simply, and well, on a grad-student's budget.

However, I was aware that the Wal-Mart was a regional magnet. And that the other grocery stores were the best within a 50-mile radius. (Or maybe a 75-mile radius...)

Those details might vary by region. I'm kind of interested in knowing more, but the daily life in rural regions isn't the kind of thing that attracts slice-of-life stories by reporters for big-city newspapers...

133:

One of the few growth areas on the high street is bicycle shops - commuter bikes, road bikes, electric bikes. Many of the big manufacturers are opening their first branded shops - there are new Giant and Specialised shops a few miles from me herein SW London. People are waking up to the idea that driving a couple of miles to a town centre only to drive another couple of miles trying to find expensive parking is not as good an idea as cycling the same distance and experiencing mild exhilaration along the way. I've made a good living out of riding this particular mega trend and plan to open a second shop next year. Bicycles generally need to be seen and sat on before purchasing, hence the need for a brick and mortar shop to supplement the website.

134:

just as a data-point on that:

Maplin had an audio cable I nearly wanted (10m, phono plugs at each end) for £21. Ebay had the same for £2.80, and the one I actually wanted for £3.60.

Ebay bulk-sellers are now cheap enough that it makes no sense to go to Maplin for anything generic, I think.

What I do go there for is browsing random stuff, where I wouldn't look at that stuff on Ebay (because life is short) - "gadget curation" you could call it.

135:

Might take issue with your comments @ 120 Charlie?

Firstly the UK is already over-populated.
Secondly, much as some tories are deeply unpleasant, never attribute to malice that which comes from stupidity (Not that that puts them in any better light, you will note.)
Thirdly, talking of stupidity, the trend to hire-in cheap supposedly expert labour from abroad, rather than using and educating the indigenous population.
And, of course, my favourite gripe - deliberately ignoring experience and education and talent in anyone over 40 years old .....

136:

A US equivalent of Maplins would be what Radio Shack used to be like before they turned into a mobile phone shop. HTH.

137:

I'll grant all of your points, Greg. Unfortunately I'm reporting on actual trends, rather than prescribing how things should be done.

138:

*Protip. If you're in Chicago, don't have IPass, and blow through an IPass lane, you have seven days to go online and pay the toll.

I suggest a better tip for anyone passing through Chicago (ie, from the east coast headed to Mpls)--just give up on the whole area. The tolls are ridiculous in-town (many cities have gotten rid of them) and the drivers are among the least courteous I've come across in N. America.

I-80 and I-39 are (mostly) freeway -- add 50 miles to your trip distance and save time.

139:

In Canada, as far as I know, you really need a credit card for online shopping, which most people don't get until they start frequently working for a wage. A British friend has had trouble with this, because Canadian banks wouldn't issue him a credit card lest he abscond back to the UK with a credit limit's worth of goods, and his debit card was not usable everywhere a credit card is. So your brave new world of buying everything online and checking prices by wireless would exclude almost everyone under 18, and some people up to 24 or so (not to mention those without enough for mobile internet access). Would children and teenagers be reduced to shopping at places which offer gift cards for cash?

140:

While I'm sure you're right about the current situation, I suspect you'd find, if the shopping habits change to the point that the bulk of shopping is done that way, so will the access rules. Pre-paid cards, sites accepting debit cards, systems where children have a card on their parents' account with a tight limit and/or some second-verification or similar.

The stores, virtual ones, are keen to get money after all. If they start being a big enough part of the economy, particularly a dominant part of the economy in a number of areas of commerce, they will be able to change the law (or more precisely to have it changed) to let them operate "sensibly."

141:

In the UK it's possible to obtain a 'creditless credit card' It's basically a prepaid card which is used in similar fashion to a normal credit card. Since it's prepaid, barriers to obtaining one should (I haven't checked, just seen the forms at the Post Office) be lower.

142:

"the first world depression 2008-2015 (or so)", as a term, rather than my more vague concept (with a rude label), just entered my financial planning process.

Very succinct summation.

143:

> I tried to open a British bank
> account a few years ago but had awful
> trouble because I had been renting
> for a couple of years and all my
> utility costs were included in the
> rent.

Things have probably changed by now, but I when I sold a book to a British publisher back in the 1980s my first royalty check came in a check in pounds drawn on the Royal Bank of Scotland. The local banks wanted ~30% to convert it to dollars and cash it. I wrote the Royal Bank, then sent them the check and opened an account. At the time I was also selling software and getting checks or cash in foreign currencies; the Royal Bank accepted it all without complaint. I kept the account for over 20 years, mostly because it paid something like 7 percent interest, and the local banks barely broke 1 percent.

The point of all this being, I opened and operated an account with only a letter. That's not possible in the USA nowadays, due to various laws that supposedly are to inhibit narcotics trafficking.

I opened an account in British Columbia the same way, to deal with Canadian transactions. For a while I had a surge in sales to Australia (early '90s), but according to the Australian consulate in DC, I would have to open the account personally in Australia. Since I don't fly and it is too far to swim, I sent Australian stuff to the Royal Bank as well

144:

You *believed* that guy? "literally rotting, covered with mold, and buzzing with flies," and all? Wow.

You realize that one implication is that the concept of a Department of Health, with enforcement authority, hasn't occurred to anyone in local, state, or federal government

Yet more implications:

a) The establishments could somehow remain in business, despite having that poster as their sole customer. The poster would, of course, have be an Eater of Rotten Vegetables on a truly massive scale.

b) Given that these government agencies actually do exist, said poster, who obviously has Internet availability, prefers to appear on a author's blog rather than contact them. Even though said author is based in Scotland.

But perhaps communications is simply impossible. Perhaps none of the local, state, or federal government agencies have Internet access, while the poster has Internet access, but no access to telephone or postal Services.

Or perhaps Bacchus has chosen his alias well.

145:

Consider grocery stores to be a bit like restaurants- most are at least decent, some exceptions can be...otherwise. I suspect the poster used some hyperbole- compost heaps as a produce section would be unlikely to the point of unheard of- but low-end grocery stores near the projects can be a little sketchy, and I wouldn't be surprised if an item or two was a bit moldy on the bottom. Caveat emptor.

Anything mainstream, you're probably fine. Mind you, I have a problem at one of my preferred and otherwise perfectly fine grocery stores that the avocados are consistently about three days overripe, but here I'm just speaking with the anguish of the bourgeois.

146:

Wow.

What earthly reason would I have to lie about my experiences?

Totally at a loss to understand where all that bitter sarcasm and ad hominem attack might be coming from.

147:

Wow.

What earthly reason would I have to lie about my experiences?

Totally at a loss to understand where all that bitter sarcasm and ad hominem attack might be coming from.

148:

Greg: this is your yellow card. (You are sounding suspiciously like an astroturf campaigner.)

149:

I'm given to understand that what we think of a normal grocers and vegetable retailers don't exist across much of the USA?
Even Tesco/Sainsbury/Waitrose/Morrisson's groceries, (* note) which I regard as sad and overpriced are leagues ahead of anything readily available in the USA, unless you live in some parts of New England, or parts of Oregon/California.

Can someone enlighten me, and everyone else?

(* note: NOT Asda, since they are owned, shudder, by Wal-Mart!)
note 2: This is a different Greg - I got a nasty shock there for a moment!

151:

A packet of Twinkies might last until the heat death of the universe. As a grocer, you can order Twinkies months or years ahead of your expected sell dates, and if they don't sell, they'll keep. If you need more, it's easy for the manufacturer to make them up.

Raw vegetables are different. First, their availability is seasonal. You can finesse things a bit by using greenhouses (expensive) or growing in the opposite hemisphere, which involves a lengthy truck- warehouse- ship- warehouse- truck- warehouse- truck chain. So stuff gets picked green because it takes a long time to get to market, or it gets picked less green to arrive close to its compost date.

Other than an occasional bell pepper, onion, or clove of garlic, the only vegetables I've ever purchased have been frozen or canned. My Dad got paid once a month when I was a kid, so payday was grocery day. There were no other purchases until the next month. When I moved out on my own I slipped to a two week cycle, though the unpleasantness of shopping has made me consider going to 30 days.

152:

In fact, I wonder how online music vendors cater to teenagers right now. Teenagers almost never have credit cards or debit cards, and tend to not want their parents to know exactly how they spend money on music. CD stores have mostly vanished, so do they just torrent everything? Similarly, bookish teenagers consume used books voraciously; where will they go when most fiction is bought in softcopy? Something like a debit card loaded with cash which works with the online payment infrastructure, as another commenter suggested, would be one solution.

153:

iTunes Gift Cards. Apple makes it easy for anyone to find a way to pay.

154:

Teenagers almost never have credit cards or debit cards, and tend to not want their parents to know exactly how they spend money on music.

My two children graduated high school in the US in 2008 and 2010. I was constantly amazed by the number of kids with credit cards. And in what seemed to me way too many cases it seemed the only rule was to keep the monthly spending under $200 or so. Even freshmen carried them. (13 and 14 year olds.)

My kids had debit cards. But they were tied to their own bank accounts. And said accounts were fed by their jobs. We basically told them if they wanted to have spending money other than the occasional movie paid by mom and dad then they had to get jobs. Both of them got jobs at age 15 in nearby stores. Not making much money and with limited hours but enough they could buy things from iTunes and go to a movie with friends.

155:

> over-60s really don't like learning new technologies,

I don't think that's true as a generalization, at least here in the US, and I suspect elsewhere. My cohort (60-70 years, educated at the some-university level or more) do keep up with technology. To the extent we don't adopt, it's because we've evaluated it and decided that it isn't for us, or isn't worth the price for what it offers.

Stuff that we think is worthwhile, we get.

Of slightly SFish relevance, I wonder whether our techno-friendliness may, in fact, be due to having grown up post-1945. The future was in the air after that, and the future mostly delivered.

156:

You're going to have to be a little more specific than "leagues ahead". What areas are we comparing?

157:

I'm 65, and a lot of the people my age and older that I know have used retirement as an excuse to continue their educations. One lady I see in the park most every morning (I think she's in her 70's and she hikes several miles up to the top of the tallest hill in the area where the park is every day in any weather) was a pediatrician in her original career, and after retiring went back to get a PhD as well. I had hoped to go back to school when I retired, but medical issues have prevented me from studying full-time, so I've been doing a lot of reading in a couple of areas that interest me: modern geometry and quantum theory.

So I agree that the generalization is not true, though it's undoubtedly true of some people.

158:

Related to the topic: can someone explain to me why people ship web orders through UPS? Sometimes I buy something from the US, or from Dell, and it goes through UPS. Horribly expensive, they demand delivery in person during working hours (when I am rarely at home, and are mightily inflexible in general.

While my postman would leave the package with one of my neighbours. Or when it needs a signature he just leaves it at the post office, where I can pick it up whenever I want (it's in the same building as my apartment, even).

159:

Spam?

160:

can someone explain to me why people ship web orders through UPS?

If you are talking about things shipped from the US it is about convenience. In very broad terms, the post office is cheapest, then UPS, then FedEx. In terms of less hassle and effort on the part of the shipper, again in broad general terms, UPS, FedEx, then post office.

And exceptions to all of this. If something is small enough to fit in your mail box then the post office may be best. If you know you are not likely to be around to take delivery and you don't want left at your door, FedEx in the US, has a way for you to go online and specify you'll pick it up while the package is in transit.

Again it all depends.

161:

As an opposing data point to most of the above, Melbourne is coming to be quite proud of its laneways culture - small hole-in-the wall bars and cafes existing in the interstices of downtown, bringing people in who can at least them walk into the old department stores. And in the suburbs, too, the old strip shopping centres that went a couple to a suburb have now been given a fair boost by the explosion in coffee bar numbers. In Birregurra, too, small rural village we know, a one pub one general store place, there are now four shops in Main Street where you can sit on the pavement with an espresso. Making up for the loss thirty years ago of the baker and dairy.

In a prosperous country, as opposed to the UK and America, coffee just about drives the forms of society, and quite a lot flows from that. The death of the dinner party, for example.

162:

Pinkish porcine product pummelled, thanks!

163:

> The death of the dinner party, for
> example.

I remember those.

It's hard to have a social gathering when more than half of the attendees are texting or talking on their mobile phones. Particularly the Bluetooth ones with the cockroach on their ear, who stride about shouting at people who aren't there.

164:

Easy to adapt- just eat anything, anywhere, and text while you do so with others who are eating. Dinnertweet?

165:

Health departments in America are restricted by the local business party ideology. Specifically they are restricted in actually closing down unsanitary stores and cafes. You can kill a customer and not go to jail, or even have your restaurant closed down
The US Supreme Court has even legalised having a store change the 'sell by date' placed on an item by a manufacturer, no joke, happened a few months ago.

166:

On the other hand, everywhere I've lived the health inspectors do publish the results (at least for restaurants) on the internet, and the inspections are also required to be posted visibly in the restaurant.
So if you really, really want to eat at the place with violations for rat droppings in the food, go right ahead-- can't say you weren't warned.

167:

Being a vinyl and valves (tubes in the US) audio fan, I go with 99 about second hand record shops. You really need to be able to browse the stock in order to find something you want.

While reading this thread, I tried thinking of other kinds of shop that can't readily be converted into an online shop. The best I could think of was opticians. You need certain specialised equipment with a trained staff to do the eye tests. Since eyes are part of your body, you do need to be physically there too. Once you've got the results, you could probably order specs or contact lenses over the net, but I suspect that most people will get them from the shop that did the eye test. I always have anyway.

168:

I tried thinking of other kinds of shop that can't readily be converted into an online shop.

Opticians, yes. Also pharmacies: you can use online ordering for regular repeat prescriptions, but if you need something in a hurry it's helpful to have somewhere nearby that stocks it. (Antibiotics, painkillers ...) A large number of people also use them for basic advice and screening -- it's easier to walk in and ask a question like "should I go see my doctor?" than it is to make an appointment with the said GP.

169:

"But as a contrast, Castle Road in Bedford, half a mile away from the High Street, has actually acquired businesses over the last decade"

And it is just a coincidence that Castle Road lies just outside the controlled parking zone? Care to bet that if the zone was extended Castle Rd businesses would start to fade away?

170:

I don't think it's dependent on unmetered parking, because parking is already highly restricted by the street layout - there are very few free places at any given time! I suspect *not* being the main east-west route north of the river is much more important - there are a few corner shops on the main traffic route but nothing like the density of places on Castle Road. Car traffic is horrid, we hates it, we does (until we want to go somewhere ourselves).

171:

I agree that they're moderately hard to turn into online shops. I wonder if they're high-street shops though? My chemist is just around the corner, and while there's two Boots in the city centre I can't think of another pharmacy. There used to be a city centre optician, but it closed down.

The optician I do use is a specialist in some other things (I have Irlen's syndrome and she's the local specialist for that) and while her address is actually "The High Street" it's purely residential where she is, for dozens of houses on either side on both sides of the street. It does, eventually, turn into a more classic high street, but it's about 5 minutes walk to get to the next non-residential property one way, it's a bit less the other to the nearest pub.

172:

I have never found any problem with parking around Castle Road. And if the metering zone was extended I would probably not go into Bedford at all. If I am going to have to pay parking charges, I'll go to MK. I have to go through it a lot anyway, and the shops are far better.

173:

BTW, what area do you live in? I'm in Putnoe, just off Church Lane

174:

There's technology in development that might impact the way opticians work. First, examining the eyes could be done automatically

"Put your face up against the eyepieces and hold your eyes open ... thank you. The printout shows your right eye is 20/40, your left eye is 20/60 with a mild astigmatism at 60 degrees from vertical. If you look at this display you can choose a frame and touch this button to see your face with the glasses. We'll ship the finished glasses to you, adjusted for your face, in 3-5 business days. Incidentally, we see early indications of cataract development; we suggest you see an ophthalmologist soon. "

With all the expert parts of the examination and prescription generation automated, the entire operation could consist of a booth in a mall or supermarket, like the mobile phone kiosks that have become ubiquitous here in the US.

There are 2 technologies that need to be developed:

  • Examining the lens, eyeball, and retina by creating a volume hologram of the eye using a low-power pulsed laser light source. The pulse allows the machine to take the hologram in a short time between blinks and saccades. The enabling technology that needs to be developed here is the software to interpret the hologram.

  • Creating the lenses automatically and cheaply involves taking the interpretation of the exam in some form (perhaps the raw hologram) and creating a volume hologram that corrects for optical errors in the eye. A volume hologram would be used because it can correct for both chromatic and achromatic abberations, and because commercial technology already exists for mass-producing lenses, gratings, and other optical components as volume holograms. Here the technology is available, but the costs need to be driven down by development of cheaper materials, manufacturing processes, and by economies of scale.
  • I would guess we're about 10 years away from being able to start a business based on these technologies.

    175:

    One issue here is without reshaping the eyeball and lens plus making muscles more flexible you just can't come up with a lens that fixes everything. My corrections are an approximation of what would be called "20/20", my wife even more so.

    Talking to a knowledgeable doctor who understands these trade offs is very useful.

    Plus having an exam by a real doctor who can notice all the issues that can and may be occurring behind the lens is real handy. Or noticing issues with your improper use of contacts. Or a myriad of other things.

    Now maybe we can automate all of this in 10 years but I tend to think not. Maybe we automate the simple stuff but the harder stuff looks like it is out decades.

    Sort of like all these self driving taxis we may be using in 50 years. But it will be a much longer time before we take care of construction equipment, farms, or most anything where you have to operate a motor vehicle "off the streets."

    Of course I look at my iPhone and think about how it's so far past what I used 10 to 30 years ago as to be unreal.

    176:

    I'm in Wendover Drive, and am one of the hordes who commute to London most weekdays.

    177:

    I have considered jobs in London.
    How much does it cost and how long does it take?
    Apart from that, drop me an email if you fancy a meetup any time (maybe in one of those 2 pubs opposite the green?). dirkdotbruereatgmaildotcom

    178:

    "the post office is cheapest, then UPS, then FedEx." Its the TV adds And and the way the R/W is gutting the PO as socialistic. The only made in America thing the world loves and OUR R/W is trying as hard as it can to kill it So FedEx's stock will go up. I say FedEx only because one of the Bush's new head of the PO, put FedEx in front of PO's, cut the open hours. And then in 6 months took a hundreds of thousands of dollars signing bonus to work at FedEx. Look up what the R/W spends the PO's money sometime.

    179:

    Apple App Store, to name but one... Microsoft Marketplace. Android Market.... Er... Amazon... Yes they might be fighting California over the affiliate retail taxes but WA gets their 9.5%...

    Anybody running a business in the US and NOT paying attention to their inter state and Internet tax liabilities is going to be in for a world of hurt.

    180:

    The quality of supermarkets in the US even here in the PAC Northwest shocks me still even after 5 years.

    What I wouldnt give for a Waitrose :(

    181:

    Worth noting: some years ago WalMart moved into the UK in a big way by acquiring ASDA (the fourth-largest supermarket chain). Chest-beating about how they were going to show these milquetoast Brits how retailing was done ensued. Tesco (sotto voce): ORLY?

    Fast forward four years and WalMart are whining to the Monopolies Commission about unfair competition.

    Yes, the UK is home to big box retailers so rapacious that WalMart struggles to keep up.

    182:

    in the PAC Northwest... What I wouldnt give for a Waitrose :(

    You have Whole Foods Market, who are pretty much in the same segment of the market. The main difference is that Waitrose is owned by the staff, rather than someone who gives vegans an even worse name.

    183:

    > Examining the lens, eyeball, and
    > retina by creating a volume hologram
    > of the eye using a low-power pulsed
    > laser light source.

    I went to an optometrist last year who did just that - I looked into a box that mapped the contours of my retinas and lenses, and he generated a lens prescription without the usual mucking about with the giant German lens monster.

    The machine didn't look particularly new, nor was it (at least, the patient interface) very large.

    Given the economies of scale for consumer electronics, I could see little kiosks at pharmacies or grocery stores, like the old coin operated weight or blood pressure machines. Drop in a few coins, look into the hood, it spits out a printout tape you can hand to an optical shop or send off to a mail-order vendor.

    184:

    Feòrag:

    And has a long-term plan to buy up and destroy anyone else in his market niche (some memos from him that show this were leaked). We had a company called Wild Oats in the Northwest that Whole Foods acquired and then dismantled. The store in our area (within walking distance) was bought by a local coalition of ex-Wild Oats employees and converted to a co-op; if it had been closed instead, as so many were, we would have to drive 4 miles or so to the nearest New Seasons for the equivalent products.

    185:

    Based on what I'm seeing on the market for write-once optical media to create custom volume holograms, I estimate that reasonable economies of scale would allow manufacturing and selling an automated lens making system that would look like and be about the same size as a low-end commercial 3D printer for less than $50,000 US. That sounds like it would fit into the kiosk.

    186:

    A kit would be simpler.
    Select the frames, and that and a couple of lenses drop into the tray. Pop them in yourself

    187:

    I don't know, I've lived in Ohio (suburb of Cleveland, then a rural college town), central PA (100k metro area), and now a population center in rural New England, and it's never been a problem to get reasonable fresh produce. In season, farm stands and farmers' markets are the best as far as quality and storage life, but even stuff from big chain supermarkets is fine for a week.

    Of course, price varies widely from region to region, but I'm willing to sacrifice a lot of other things in my life before good fruit and veg.

    I'm guessing that "food deserts" like Bacchus' really are significantly due to prevailing culture. There are huge areas of the US where historic pressures created cultures of near-carnivores. I sometimes joke about the tomato and lettuce on a cheeseburger making it 'healthy', but I have in fact met people whose typical daily diet is _still_ meat and white bread, meat and potatoes, etc. And the potato is counted as healthy. They will pick off perfectly good tomato and lettuce, with a look of disgust on their face.

    As a store owner in that kind of culture, it just doesn't make sense to put a lot of effort into your produce section.

    188:

    Bacchus,

    I certainly believe your description of your local circumstances. It sounds like you live in the deep south around the kind of people who think grits are a vegetable.

    In Texas we are much better off. A lot of the produce in our stores comes up from the Rio Grande valley and is of good quality even in the winter. Interestingly we have a lot of poor immigrants from Mexico and it seems they are much more in the habit of eating vegetables and fruit than poor Americans in the deep south.

    The dominant grocery store here in Texas is HEB. They are very good about tailoring the stock in individual stores to the ethnic nature of the local clientele.

    The average size of a grocery store here exceeds anything our European friends are used to. The biggest HEB in the Austin area is more than four acres and stores of two acres are common.

    189:

    Eyeglasses without people.

    I may be wrong but I'm guess most of the proponents of this are some combination of young and/or eye correction not needed or is simple.

    Once I turned 45 I had some choices to make and talking to a real person, (not someone in a part of the world with dirt floors reading from a script), made a big difference. I have distance issues and could focus through my corrective lenses for close up work until about age 45. The easy, just get these corrective lenses would have given me glasses that I'd have to take off to read. Or I could have gotten bi-focal lenses but I wanted to read and see long distance when looking ahead. So I got glasses with one lens fully corrected for distance and one lens only partially corrected for distance. And the later was picked via a series of iterative tests with explanations of how each choice would impact me in most situation.

    Now maybe a smart AI system will be able to do this some day but we're likely a ways off from this.

    And my wife has similar but more complicated issues and trade offs. I can't imagine her looking into a box that spits out the "correct" answer.

    As to the comment about just "popping in your lenses", that's a fail for most people. Especially if you allow frames to continue to be a fashion choice. Most will not have the tools or dexterity to do it on all but the fatter plastic frames. Now maybe someone will get rich patenting a new system for putting lenses in front of eyes or at least attaching them to frames. I'm all for this.

    190:

    Nah, sorry, Whole Paycheck just doesn't make the grade. For a start you can't actually buy normal things in there, which bugs me. Second, the produce is, frankly, a tad over-rated. Thirdly, our local one is a bit pants and the staff a royal PITA. And, finally, I won't give a penny to them with that asshat CEO.

    We do have Metropolitan Markets but they're still not Waitrose.

    191:

    I was at a presentation by the MD of the Korean Unit of the company I worked for a few years ago, and he was pointing out how comprehensively Walmart had failed in the Korean market and contrasted it to how effective Tesco had been.

    While I have to have a little home town pride for Tesco (I grew up about half a mile from their headquarters in Cheshunt) - the last time I was in one, also in Cheshunt, their flagship super-dupa-mega-giga-penta-store on the old Spurs Training Groups, I almost had to get supplies and a native guide to get me out of it - it was THAT big. Plus it was the start of the Christmas run up and nobody needs to buy a metre long packet of Jaffa Cakes...

    192:

    I don't go to Whole Foods because they've thrice threatened to have me arrested.

    193:

    Well, my only eye problem is short distance in bad light.
    So my solution is a pair of "magnifying glasses" from the pound shop.

    194:

    The largest Tesco in the UK is 17,230 m2 (4.3 acres) and there are several more in the 11,000 m2 (2.7 acres) range. The largest ASDA is also about 2.7 acres.

    195:

    Not young: I'm 65, and I've had glasses since I was a kid. Sometime in my early 40's my prescription turned complicated: near-sighted in one eye, far-sighted in the other, with a serious astigmatism in one eye and a lesser one in the other. The problems that couldn't be coped with by automatic exams and glasses manufacturing came later: high ocular pressure leaving me at risk for glaucoma or retinal detachment and requiring regular checkups, and cataracts in both eyes requiring replacement of the lenses of my eyes with plastic implants.

    Those later problems could at least be tracked by automated exams, so the printed prescription could contain a recommendation to see an ophthalmologist for a checkup.

    As far as the presbyopia problems of age, I've been using varifocal lenses for about 15 or 20 years now, and they work reasonably well. The technology used to make custom volume hologram lenses could certainly make varifocals. But there's another, more complex and probably more expensive solution. Instead of using a write-once material for the lens, use a combination of write-once (for the correction part of the prescription) and a rewritable material that can be changed in place in the glasses for the varifocal. You could have a slider on the earpiece to control the focus manually. Since rewritable materials aren't commercially available, and that kind of application needs a material that doesn't even exist in the lab, that's going to take a lot longer to develop.

    And as for "pop it in yourself", I agree. The whole point of the idea is to minimize the expertise required of the salesperson, and minimize the time and effort of the customer, so that the store can be reduced to a kiosk.

    196:

    A datapoint for the UK that appeared in the news today.

    Next (a classic high street cheap fashion clothes chain) reported a 3.1% increase in sales from August 1st to Christmas in 2011 compared to 2010. However, sales in shops fell over that period and a 17% increase in online shopping (via Next Directory) made up the difference.

    Guess people do shop online for clothes too.

    197:

    It depends on how you define "out of town". Westfield Stratford City opened last year, and is allegedly Europe's largest shopping centre. Might be a special case though.

    198:

    The food desert culture isn't unique to the United States.

    3-4 years ago, my wife and I went to an SF convention in Ireland. Unlike most, it wasn't in Dublin; instead it was in Maynooth, a small town of 15-30,000 (originally the site of a seminary, now a college). Because $WIFE is a vegetarian with some helpful food intolerances on top, we hit the local supermarket -- there was just one in the town -- to see what supplies were available.

    The only non-tinned/frozen vegetables in the entire store were potatoes.

    (I'm not kidding. Tomatoes? Canned. Peas? Frozen. Carrots? Canned or frozen. Aubergine? "What are they?")

    This might be a side-effect of there having been a big out-of-town supermarket I didn't know of, just over the horizon. But having seen the rest of the high street (and the local restaurant menus) I doubt it.

    199:

    "Guess people do shop online for clothes too."

    One thing I would never buy without the opportunity to try first is shoes. Maybe that's a clue for retail survival?

    200:

    Eyeglasses without people.

    I may be wrong but I'm guess most of the proponents of this are some combination of young and/or eye correction not needed or is simple.

    Me too.

    The glasses I'm wearing right now cost more than my iPhone (unlocked, unsubsidised, direct from Apple). There are eleven layers of glass in them, to provide varifocal correction for a devil's brew of myopia, presbyopia, and astigmatism. They're also cunningly designed to correct for an asymmetrical weakness in the muscles of one eye (an after-effect of eye surgery). In addition to correcting for optical defects, the sweet spot in the lens was identified using motion-capture software designed to track where my eyeballs were pointing when I followed a target around a screen.

    They can't fix my retinal problems, but for the first time in a decade I don't go cross-eyed if I focus on infinity while driving for more than 90 minutes. And for the first time in five years I can comfortably wear the same glasses from wake-up to going to bed, regardless of activity type.

    (Can't wear contact lenses: got scars on one eyeball. And not going anywhere near laser keratotomy -- it wouldn't correct most of my visual problems anyway, and the failure rate is worryingly high.)

    201:

    On shoes: there's a high street chain specializing in womens' fashion boots (I forget its name) here in the UK. They don't have large storefronts or hold much stock; rather, they're a showroom environment. If the punter sees a style they like, the staff will measure their feet and order up a bespoke pair of custom-fitting boots. (This is really helpful for those who fall outside the limited fitting range stocked in the high street stores, which is fine for 80% of the population and shit for the other 20%.)

    This doesn't work for cheap footwear or impulse shopping, but as shoes/boots can be a big ticket purchase (expensive leatherwork) I can see streamlined bespoke supply chain stores catching on with them, as with laptops and cars and suits and so on.

    202:

    shoes: I have already bought quite a number online. The key is it's a make and model where I know which size fits me OR the country you live in (in this case Germany) has laws for online-shopping and a logistics system that facilitate "order 3 sizes, send two of them back".

    In Germany, this works quite nicely, also for clothes. Companies like H&M and Esprit operate online-shopping systems where the package you receive already contains a "send it back for free" sticker that you can put on the front and that is multi-carrier, i.e. it doesn't matter whether you carry it to a post-office or to a pickup-point of another carrier (there is actually one that has _more_ than the post because it cooperates with lots of small businesses).

    I am quite glad that my wife has started shopping for clothes this way. Sitting in front of a computer with her to pick out stuff very much beats walking through crowded stores on a Saturday ..

    203:

    This might be a side-effect of there having been a big out-of-town supermarket I didn't know of, just over the horizon. But having seen the rest of the high street (and the local restaurant menus) I doubt it.

    I think you may have missed the norking great Tesco that we used. I wasn't looking at the veg selection, so I can't say whether it was particularly poor or not, but they've now redeveloped it into a full Tesco Extra 24 hour place so I'd expect them to have a fairly good range. This is a town within commuting distance of Dublin after all.

    It sounds as though you may have been in the pathetic little store next door to the hotel which had only a few vegetables that I recall.

    Conceded - visiting the Tesco would have been a bit of a trek without a car. As you will have noticed, we were tending to get to Maynooth by car.

    204:

    That's how I bought my pairs of Magnum boots.
    Went to the showroom, tried them on, and ordered online (there was a discount for ordering online)

    205:

    Which is the point - Westfield Stratford is on excellent public transport connections - rail, tube, DLR, bus and is surrounded by an urban area. Whatever its sins it isn't an out of town shopping centre.

    It may be we will eventually see the retail sector consolidating into a series of mega-centres like Westfield (and indeed Oxford Street/Regent Street) for those times when you shop for goods in person, with the high street playing much more a social role, plus those few sectors of retail discussed above (opticians, etc).

    206:

    I believe the shop you are referring to is called Hotter. Certainly I was dragged around York by SWMBO in order to find said establishment.

    As Charlie says it is a very good opportunity to see the shoes in the flesh prior to purchase and the shop staff were happy to order shoes to be delivered to home. So there was at least 3 ways to buy:
    - in store and take away
    - order in store and have them delivered to home
    - buy on-line

    Seeing as their target market seemed to be older women it would appear that they are trying to avoid losing sales to those (like my parents) who still don't trust on-line shopping.

    207:

    Living in urbia (near downtown Kansas City, MO, which is nowhere as dense as a lot of other big cities, but.....

    I think there will be a whole swath of the population, the poor, who will be bypassed and maybe will have an even harder time even getting basic groceries. There are a lot of little corner bodegas, but they mostly sell liquor and cigarettes. Their food offerings range from sad (lots of ready-to-eat, bad for you foods) to nasty, and are often overpriced.

    If one can't afford some kind of computer or smart phone, they'll find themselves living in a food desert, having to spend larger amounts of money to get to the stores. Our bus lines have been decreased and aren't useful to a lot of folks.

    All the WalMarts in the KC area are in the outer edges, the closest one to our home is a nasty little basic Walmart, the only 'groceries;' available are snack foods and soda pop.

    This whole discussion ignores a lot of peoples' basic lifestyles, but then again, that may not be the main idea of the whole thing.

    208:

    Don't your big food stores do delivery from Net orders?

    209:

    I think so much of the future of the high street depends on the combination of the extent to which people enjoy shopping as a leisure activity and the number, variety and value of purchased items that are hard to deliver only through internet mail order. A third factor is the shape of transport over the coming decades which has an effect on some towns more than others.

    High streets looking to prosper I think should be looking for shops that have two or three of the following features

    Shopping as a leisure activity.

    Shopping for instant gratification where instant gratification is an integral part of the transaction (new shirt to replace stained shirt, food for tonight’s dinner)

    Show room (try before you buy – clothes, furniture, things where the look and feel are important)

    Specialist retailers who have to have a base somewhere for their broader internet activities (rent dependent why not on the high street.)

    Bespoking services who also have to have a base somewhere for their broader internet activities.

    Shops with a high degree of service.

    Shops with ambience.


    What is interesting for me is the ability (or otherwise) of market forces and / or democratic institutions to provide the high streets and community hubs we want. I think for a high street to work it needs a concentration of shops and a variety of shop types and these need to be complementary (a row of food shops is not going to be a great place for boutique shoe shop).

    It’s easy to signal that we don’t have what we want – we shop elsewhere.

    How do we signal, in advance, what we do want?

    210:

    Last time I was in Maynooth, I also saw an M&S Food outlet. Ireland is a bit of a mixture in shopping terms. Some towns have lots of indies while others appear to have been all but destroyed by development. In Dublin the huge new suburban centres like Dundrum seem likely to kill off any surviving traditional High Street style centres. It included a large Tesco on my last visit.

    211:

    Coincidentally enough, I spent a semester abroad at NUI Maynooth five or so years ago. I never had a problem getting reasonable produce from the Dunnes in the center of town (easy walk from the school), or the Tesco for a few more esoteric items (quite a hike).

    I do agree that neither is exactly prominent, and in fact I think all you can see of Dunnes from the outside is their clothing/housewares, so it would be easy to end up disappointed.

    ...oh god, did you go to the Aldi? That place gave me nightmares.

    212:

    nope

    in Kansas City the default assumption is that one has a car available.

    213:

    To add to my prior comment (#214) the state of the bus system is such that, though I live close to9 work and on bus lines, a) I have to get to work at 6:00 a.m., so the bus times have not gone to 'peak" and I'd have to stand at a bus stop at about 5 a.m. to make it to work AND I'd have to change busses once, about halfway between.

    Do not tell me to walk, there are no good sidewalks that go between the two places AND there is a 500 foot elevation between work and home (having to go uphill at the end of the day....)

    214:

    I don't think that the target market for online grocery deliveries is people who don't have (can't afford) cars, more like busy working families who don't think that dragging two toddlers around a supermarket is a fun leisure activity.

    215:

    That and bulk buying the heavy stuff eg tins, bottles of liquid etc. That can also be a one click process. IIRC Tesco charges £5 for home delivery so spending a couple of hundred every few months is well worth it

    216:

    Umm, I thought the whole problem was fresh produce? £5 (or the equivalent) is not much for a delivery of £200 worth of stuff that can sit in tins or the freezer, but if you're looking at £10 of fresh veggies it is.

    Specials

    Merchandise

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