Helen Martin: The future of shopping: ghost towns and online hell

WHEN it comes to bank closures, I'm a regular complainer/campaigner. But, as is becoming clearer day by day, bank bosses don't care how their customers feel.

Monday, 14th May 2018, 7:00 am
How much longer will Princes Street be packed with shoppers as the retail sector evolves?

They insist, despite wide protest, that people increasingly bank online and the trend will continue.

Well, they may be closing branches too quickly, but the migration to online banking is certainly rising. And what we have to eventually accept, is that communities left with no branches at all can’t vent all their anger at bankers. This is just one of the many downsides of the internet.

The same “killer effect” is closing down shops, cutting jobs and turning high streets into nothing but charity outlets and coffee parlours.

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At the moment, Scotland is losing five shops every week from its high streets. Some new ones have opened, but with a different style and purpose.

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Five shops every week close on Scotland’s high streets

As well as big chain collapses such as Toys R Us, several from bargain outlets (such as New Look) and prestigious emporiums (such as House of Fraser) are “restructuring” – which most of us recognise means shrinking and redundancies. In villages as well as cities, the bricks and mortar retail sector is slowly trickling down the plug hole with closures expected to double in the next few years.

While most of that is down to the internet, the decline in city and town centres started a long time ago with councils across the country backing out-of-town shopping centres, something that’s driven shoppers out of the city.

We are inevitably heading for ghost towns and, in many Scottish locations, a drop in local footfall and a rise in shops dedicated to almost nothing but tourism.

I caved in last week. A fashion and homeware brochure from the Kaleidoscope firm came addressed to me by post. I flicked through and was well-impressed with the clothes on offer.

Plus, setting up a personal account offered 25 per cent off the first order. “Pay in full or spread the cost!” yelled the brochure’s account promotion, with an offer code to guarantee the deal.

I rang the order number and was asked for all my details from email to phone number, address and so on (considering calls cost 13p a minute, I thought the chatty man Richard was stretching things out, but let him do his thing).

It was only when I told him I wanted to pay in full that he put me on hold to talk to his supervisor, then came back telling me the code in the brochure wasn’t recognised and its offer to pay in full and get discount was wrong.

Conversation ended. It was about ten minutes later that I decided to complain, so I rang back connecting to another operator David, who asked for my account number. “I don’t have an account number. I’m ringing to make a complaint,” I said. Whereupon, he hung up.

I have tried buying some items online. Size 6 slippers arrived, but they were tiny, approximately a size 3, as was the alleged size 16 bath robe (roughly a size 12), both made in the Far East.

No shops, no banks, possibly even no clothes, were it not for charity shops – but gallons of coffee. That’s some city future.

It’s councils’ job to fix potholes!

I salute SNP ministers (unusual for me) for pointing out that the problem of potholes across Scotland is down to local authorities’ spending decisions, not government responsibility. The role of local councils is to deliver basic, local needs. That’s all.