Future of retailing isn’t a choice between the high street and the internet
I’m about to tackle my most difficult task. Every three years I write a Timpson annual report for 15 years’ time. This time, I have to get my thinking around the content of a report for 2037, by which time more than half the things that will dominate our daily lives have yet to be invented.
The object of the exercise is to open up my mind and produce a forecast that isn’t simply the extrapolation of current trends (the basis of most other business plans).
Along with some vital issues – including whether there will still be a need for key cutting, watch repairs and passport photos – I will also speculate on what might happen to shopping.
There will always be some other service providers who can’t trade from a website (you can’t get your hair cut or drink a cup of coffee online), so will we be simply surrounded by barbers, nail bars and Greggs?
Or will shopping continue to be a leisure activity, with physical displays, changing rooms and personal service attracting customers into supermarkets, shopping malls and town centres?
I forecast that plenty of shopping will be done in town centres for the next 50 years and beyond, but there will be a lot of changes – fewer shops, but many brand new retailers with a unique customer appeal and true personal service.
There will be more community facilities (medical centres, gyms, restaurants and theatres), more houses in the centre of town, and enough parking to compete with out of town retail parks. There will also be more places to meet, including cafes, social clubs, sports facilities, lecture halls and youth zones. Town centres will become a social hub for their local community.
Future retailing isn’t a straight choice between the internet and the high street. The winners will be those who use both to make the most of their brand. Perhaps the biggest retail opportunity is for established online brands to expand by opening their own shops.
Every so often, a brand new concept captures the imagination. It happened with Biba, Next and Topshop. These were all stores that created retail theatre, and it will happen again.
If the runaway internet success Pretty Little Thing was to open the store of the future, our young generation would discover the fun of spending a day out shopping.
Sir John Timpson is chairman of the high-street services provider, Timpson.
Send him a question at [email protected] and read more answers from his Ask John column here