Pop-ups are not helping high street shops to survive – Kevin Buckle

Retailers are taking a hit from online shopping but could do more to help ourselves, says Kevin Buckle
The prospects for the high street continue to look bleak. Picture: PAThe prospects for the high street continue to look bleak. Picture: PA
The prospects for the high street continue to look bleak. Picture: PA

With news that retail sales for May had shown the biggest slump on record, people were quick to blame political and economic uncertainty.

Solutions that are trotted out fairly relentlessly now are to make everything around the shops look nice – otherwise known as improving the public domain and offering experiential shopping in which the customer doesn’t just get to buy something they want at a good price but they get to have an experience too.

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All of these solutions come from folk who don’t stand on the shop floor each day, and get paid no matter how wrong they may be. The answer, of course, is that if anybody is to blame, it is people not buying enough stuff in shops, though folk will be quick to point out that blame is not really the right word.

What has happened is that the obsession with online shopping has become so great, especially among the younger generation, that high street shopping is no longer considered as an option, no matter how competitive it may be or indeed what fantastic experiences it has on offer.

The whole experience concept for shopping is, in fact, much misunderstood and partly originated from the fact that millennials are said to prefer buying experiences to buying things, which basically broke down in my case to them preferring to spend their money on holidays and getting their music for free. Truth be told there isn’t too much councils can do, but it wouldn’t be right to say there is nothing. A level playing field is not too much to ask and there are things that could be done.

As is so well documented now, Edinburgh has a lot of visitors and they do have a propensity for buying in shops more than they might do if at home. The problem is that while those on the high street are there through the good and the bad months, others choose only to trade in the good times and are ably abetted by councils granting licences for all manner of pop-ups.

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Certainly it won’t solve the bigger picture of online shopping, but if councils could stop tagging on to other initiatives that they will help businesses and instead actually do something that will help by not allowing so many pop-ups, then balance would at least be restored.

In fact given the recent Open Streets initiative banning cars, why not have a similar plan banning pop-ups and see if actually the existing shops cope just fine and visitors are more than happy to forego visiting the kind of things they can find anywhere. Maybe try that this Christmas!

Fighting talk

I had a customer in from Lithuania visiting because his daughter had just finished her masters degree at Edinburgh University. We had a good chat about music and he told me he sold new vinyl back home and found our prices very cheap in comparison.

He was admiring the Butcher Billy prints we have, featuring post punk musicians as superheroes. “Of course,” he said, quite matter of factly, “though I’m 53 I missed post-punk because I was in the Soviet army.”

The Smiths and The Cure understandably were not on his radar at the time.