High Street versus Online

I can still remember the first time I made an online puchase. A few years back, I was sitting tentatively in front of the computer, with my debit card in one hand and the mouse in the other. On the screen was the online shopping page of NEXT, and selected was a pair of khaki shorts. The novelty and the thrill of the whole process was almost as exciting as the product itself, and I eagerly clicked through the security checks without giving it much of a second thought. Needless to say, when the shorts arrived, they neither fit me nor looked like what I had envisaged.

This did not, however, dampen my infatuation with internet shopping, and today I buy most of my clothes from online. Nowadays almost every chain clothing shop has developed an online store; companies such as Mr Porter and ASOS in fact operate exclusively online. Why has online shopping seen such a surge in popularity? Simplicity, accessibility and focus on the individual are the answers. Technological advances in the 21st century allows one to simply turn on one’s tablet/phone/laptop/console and, with a few clicks, make an order. All of this done without having to move an inch from the sofa. Item collection is hardly more difficult, since nearly all online stores offer delivery services and one-day-delivery. Most importantly, the online experience is tailored in such a way as if you, the customer, are the king of the world. It is not surprising then that online retail is growing at such a fast pace. All fabulous and fantastic for everyone, right? But is it really?

Online shopping is killing the independent shops on the High Street. Operating online, they pay no rent and could easily decrease the price of items to push out local competitors. The result is obvious. Channel 4 News states bleakly that 25,000 town centre shops have closed down since 2000 and 9,000 more will be shut by 2014. Not only is this disastrous to the shop owners, it is also problematic to the consumer. The closure of local shops takes away an experience which online retail cannot provide. Walking up the High Street window shopping, trying new clothes on with friends and flipping through racks of hangers full of different, distinctive clothes cease to be possible. The experience is instead replaced by lines on a computer screen which, however artfully designed, lack the basic warmth of human contact. Moreover, as local shops gradually disappear, they are replaced by chain stores like Topshop or, god forbid, Primark. This gradually reduces your choices until the point when everyone is wearing the same mass produced, copied-from-the-catwalk jacket, for example. No longer will you find that vintage shirt from ‘this really indie store off the high street’ because that store will have disappeared, having been taken over by yet another River Island. For a society and a fashion industry which prizes individuality, the closure of independent shops providing such unique clothing is detrimental.

Is there anything that we, as customers, can do? Of course. I am not asking you to stop shopping online and to scavenge everything from stores nearby. I wouldn’t be able to live without online shopping. Instead, endeavour to have a look round the shops and see if you can find anything interesting. The fresh air and human contact is much needed after slaving away in the library. You might even be able to find something special and at the same time proudly say that you contributed to the local economy. Wouldn’t that be smashing.