Len Goodman, head judge on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing says that he’s a wind-up watch in a digital world. I’m not. He has a few years on me but I am a silvering surfer, happy to be fully in tune with the shift towards the modern online way of doing things. I use social media, I have a blog and of course I buy a lot of my stuff online. If I’m ever in doubt I reach for my smartphone as the answer is always there.
But this weekend was a little different. Saturday 7 December was Support Small Business day in the UK, an attempt to get people to think about the shops and businesses in their own neighbourhoods in an ever globalising world.
It’s tough on the high street. Business is changing as it always has but the rise of online shopping seems inexorable. This year it is believed that online sales over the festive period will exceed high street sales for the first time. We’ll see if the forecasts are right come January.
My view though is that it will not be either or, one or the other and that online shopping can exist side by side with the more traditional bricks and mortar stores. Indeed some online businesses are tiring to the high street to build their brands further. Online shipping is fantastic. The choice is unrivalled, the prices are very keen and distance is no object. It has brought choice to the consumer, especially to those who had no real choice before.
Yet online is no substitute for the tangible. Just like sometimes there is no substitute for a face to face conversation, sometimes you need to see and feel a product before you buy. Browsing, even better with a fiend is part of the shopping pleasure and of course on the high street gratification is usually instant.
So this weekend I tried to do the opposite to my normal approach. I shopped where I live. I started with the small shops, and then the chain stores and only if I could not get what I wanted did I go online. I went to places that I don’t normally go. OK, it wasn’t as easy to find what I was after, the service was a little quirky at times and I may have spent a little more than expected yet I spent money that will stay within the community in which I live.
My friend Johan, who lives in Stockholm, laughed when I complained about the price of bread in his beautiful city and said ‘but that’s why we have a bread shop in every street’. I’ve used this story many times because he is right. Our constant drive for convenience and lowest price will be our undoing. Once all the local shops have folded there will be no convenience at all and no heart to my home town. It will end up as a place where people only reside and the only way to get anything will be to have it delivered.
Refusing to shop online is not the answer but getting the balance right between that and supporting your local businesses is. There is a place in this world for both types of trading and this weekend I made the effort to try and get the balance right.