It was fascinating to watch ‘Robert Peston goes Shopping’, broadcast on Monday 2nd September. Here is a link to the BBC iPlayer where you can search for it.
The programme walks us through the history of retailing in Britain. From the 1940’s through to the present day. Part one talk about the shift that took place in retailing from the abolition of RPM (Retail Price Maintenance). Essentially a pice fixing mechanism through to the revolutions brought about by ASDA, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Next.
From me, I was particularly struck by the revolution that took place in shop displays. During the 1950’s J.Sainsbury’s tried a ‘bold’ experiment and introduced ‘self-service’.
This meant moving the products from behind the counter, where you were not allowed to touch them into the shop floor. Whilst not to everyone taste, it was noted that a few judges wives, preferred to be served this sparked massive change across the country. The shop at 911 London started this trend in 1950 when 10 shop had self service. By 1967 24,000’ish shops across the country had adopted the tactic.
Whilst back in the 50’s shop displays where minimal. The emphasis was change. No longer did the manufacturers have control. It was the customer who controlled what was being bought. Shop displays gave customers the opportunity to try products, look and feel them before they bought.
The emphasis on the product was further developed when Asda opened the first supermarket in Nottingham back in 1966.
After watching the programme, it struck me that the High Street, has been going through change since he 1950’s.
The revolutions that took place all those years ago was for the purpose of transforming shopping into something that was a drab and dreary experience into something that was fun, aspirational and exciting.
The internet is clearly the next revolution in Britain’s addiction to shopping. But Internet shopping is not exciting and it will never be. It is providing consumers greater access to goods, sometimes at a cheaper rate.
So, whilst the high street has been on the demise since the 50’s with the introduction of the supermarket and abolition of RPM.
It’s clear from the programme that it was the retailers that revolutionized the way we shop not the Government. Although they did help with the stopping RPM. But it was great innovators like Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S, Next that challenged the way we shopped and brought change and more importantly choice to the consumer.
Getting people back to the shops and High Street, will not be easy. It will take something exciting to happen again, in the same way that Chelsea Girl grove queues outside the side back in the 70’s.
It will require innovation and maybe the intervention of the Government, local and national to make an incentive to bring people back and that will include reducing or cutting, business rates.