After far too many months of shopping online, I took the plunge last week and actually went to my nearest big town, to mooch around, and delve amongst some hangers, with no intention of buying anything. As you do.
I picked up hems as I passed, felt furry collars, and generally got up close and physical with clothes in a real shop again. Something I haven’t done for a long, long time.
It seems a lifetime ago now, that Saturdays were made for going into town with your mates. Hanging around the makeup counter, testing the samples and spraying the smellies.
If you were planning an evening out, then, of course, it called for a new jumper, new jeans, new shoes, it didn’t matter which. You just needed, and got your ‘something new’ fix.
But life has changed so much recently, and our shopping habits have too.
A recent survey suggests that 60% of us have shopped less on the High Street, during various lockdowns and have bought most of our clothes online.
Retail giant John Lewis, saw their online shopping transactions jump from 40% to that magical 60%, and many well-known, established retailers, such as Debenhams, have simply cleared their floorspace and closed their shop doors for good.
But of course, as independent shops also closed, due to lack of footfall, our once vibrant towns look sad and lacklustre, while shoppers shop from the comfort of their own homes.
The individuality of many towns has suffered. Previous ‘go-to destinations’ for a favourite shop, or cafe, no longer hold their appeal, and visually in the High Streets, it shows.
My local town felt dull and quite grubby. The empty shops are now home to rough sleepers, with their belongings just abandoned for the day, leaving last night’s food trays strewn around pavements.
Just finding somewhere to park, (not to mention also navigating the new pay and display meters which of course no longer accept cash), is the first hurdle. There were queues everywhere, to get into the car parks, then a merry-go-round ( and round) of searching for a parking slot.
But when you’ve finally found a space, far, far away from a meter, which then helpfully asks you for your registration number, which of course, you cannot remember, and the associated joy of marching back to your car to stare at your number plate, almost makes you want to turn round and go home before you’ve even started.
And how do you know at that point, if you will need to pay for 2 hours, or 4 hours… you’ll need as long as it takes, obviously.
Almost all clothes shops now offer an online option, except good old Primark, to whom, I think other retailers owe a debt of gratitude.
Because, for as long as Primark digs its heels in and does not get drawn towards the light of the internet, other shops, in all major towns across the country, will benefit from its footfall by association.
No matter if you shop there or not, Primark is the one retailer that has the people power in its customers, who will also visit its competitors such as River Island, H & M, and New Look.
Physically visiting a shop still has an appeal. You can feel the quality of the material on a dress, put a whole outfit together in one go, and of course, make the inevitable impulse purchase.
The transaction is instant, no waiting for the delivery, and carrying your spoils home somehow is so satisfying. When you need a shopping fix, nothing else will do, and you need to get your hands on your prize as soon as possible. Not when a Hermes delivery man gets round to you!
The dynamics of shopping have changed dramatically, and it’s possible we will never go back to pre-pandemic habits.
But there’s nothing quite like planning a shopping trip, the prospect of browsing, trying things on, doing a twirl in front of a mirror, chatting to staff at the till, and buying things you didn’t know you needed…. till you actually saw them!
Long live the High Street!