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...

...knowing someone else is going to be lugging that huge bag of cat litter to your door.

But there is also the art of shopping - choosing the right vegetables, the right piece of fish, or even the simple serendipity of wandering the aisles and spotting something new. That's really tough to do online.

So I increasingly find that I'm buying the generic and heavy stuff in my online grocery, and getting the interesting, fun stuff from local shops, where I browse and ask for advice.

And that interesting, fun stuff is also the higher margin stuff, which is good news for the shopkeeper.

I think soon the high street will become the place to buy things you can't or don't want to buy over the internet. Internet shopping will be the default setting, and that's a big mindset shift for retailers.

But once you accept that and fast-forward a few years you get some interesting potential futures, and some alternative business models popping up on the high street. Already, good shops emphasise advice instead of relying on price alone - for example, by offering personal shopping, recipe tips or cooking classes. As in many things, the Apple Store is a good example of this.

High street as showroom

Perhaps taking this trend even further, some shops might give up on selling all together and operate instead as showrooms, giving you the chance to check out the latest cars, laptops or shoes and then taking a cut if you then go on to buy the product online when you get home - or right there via your smartphone.

Perhaps some stores - with brilliantly sourced products and the best staff - could even charge you an entry fee because their expertise and product range is so great. They won't be selling products: they'll be selling the experience.

Now that takes a different perspective from retailers, most of whom consider their staff to be an irritation rather than a source of competitive advantage. It will be a reinvention of the high street in the same way that the music industry has already changed, shifting from selling CDs to selling live music, for example.

And it will mean a different attitude from us, the shoppers. We'll have to be happy to pay more for our goods because of the extra service we get.

But if we really think the high street is an essential part of our community, then it's time to start paying for it.

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...