The internet is killing the high street - and why I think it's a good thing

Steve Ranger's Notebook: Retailers need to relearn the art of shopping - and so do we...

The high street can't win a fight with the internet on price. To survive, it'll have to focus on what the internet can't do, says's Steve Ranger.

Much has been written about how the internet is killing off the high street - about how retailers can't compete with their crafty online rivals and are shutting up shop instead.

And how, in turn, those empty shops leave depressing gaps in the once welcoming smile of the high street, making it even harder for the remaining retailers.

And thus the miserable spiral begins. Soon you reach the point when all you need to go shopping on the high street is a pocket full of change - because the pound shops and charity shops are the only ones left.

It's certainly true that we Brits are turning from a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of online bargain-hunters. The UK online shopping market is growing at 18 per cent a year - despite the recession - and is likely to hit €81bn this year.

High-street shopping

The high street is under pressure from the internet and must reinvent itself if it wants to remain at the heart of our communitiesPhoto: Shutterstock

In contrast, the high street has a decade of stagnation to look forward to.

And yet, there's no reason why a vibrant high street can't coexist with the internet, providing they do different things.

In the past 20 years the high street has turned into a miserable identikit retail destination, dominated by big, bland brands, staffed by underpaid and obnoxious teens counting the seconds until closing time. Few should mourn its passing.

Instead, the high street should look at what the internet can't do - and make that the heart of its strategy.

Simply cutting costs and deskilling staff even further is not the way to go. There's no point piling it high to sell it cheap because the internet retailers can always pile it higher and sell it cheaper, and they'll gift-wrap it and deliver it to your house, too.

Instead, retailers have to focus on those intangible yet vital areas - warmth, customer service and understanding. And if they do, what could spring up in our town centres could be far more interesting than what we have today.

Growth of online grocery shopping

I can see this in my own shopping habits. I've long been a fan of online grocery shopping. Creating a shopping list while sitting on the sofa sipping tea certainly beats the horrors of the supermarket with its strip lighting, bickering couples and wonky trolleys. And there's also the mild sadistic glow you get from...

By Steve Ranger

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic. An award-winning journalist, Steve writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture, and regularly appears on TV and radio discussing tech issues. Previously he was th...