Shopping habits have changed – so your business habits have to

Poor old Toys R Us, you might say, going bust.

With my usual cynical head on, I could see it coming. M and S will be next, I reckon, with its clothing side going to the wall – there’s only so much beige and grey us old people can tolerate.

B and Q too, perhaps.

Asda is feeling the strain, as is Morrison’s, I believe.

I think I know why – not as some fancy dan business analyst with 8 letters and LION after my name – but as a consumer and keen observer.

Here’s why.

Cast your mind back to the 70s – shopping was often done locally as mobility was restricted with car ownership. The council estate I grew up on had 4 shops that served all our needs on South Common, Thorne: a mini grocery store (Frank Dee’s), a butcher’s John Wakefield, a newsagent Ian Kay’s and a sweetshop run by Goff Sprakes.

That was our universe – and our parents too.

We had a chip shop and a post office further into the estate, a bike shop and toy shop in the town centre and a beloved Woolworth’s. I had no fancy stovetop Illy coffee back then.

It was only when the likes of Asda opened in nearby mining village, Carcroft, that the exodus from local began and the “big weekly shop” became the norm – for anyone who could drive.

Giant retail parks sprung up from then on with places like Meadowhall, in Sheffield, widening choice and strangling towns like Thorne, Doncaster, Rotherham, Barnsley.

Free parking, cinemas, great tram, train and bus connections, superb shopping facilities, longer opening hours, a giant food hall made popping in for 4 pork chops and a copy of The Daily Mirror round the corner seem so archaic.

Towns died.

The consumer though is changing I think, if business closures are anything to go by.

Up to 2009, I reckon, I’d gladly fill a trolley weekly at Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s or Waitrose (if flush) and hand over £150 to £200 for the pleasure of shopping there.

I don’t now though.

I flit between supermarkets and make smaller daily shops – don’t you?

Where we live currently, we are served by two ubiquitous Tesco Express stores and I’d say they’re both gold mines.

Morrisons, Asda, Toys R Us, Woolworths, BHS all went to the retail graveyard in the sky, leaving the ones who chose smaller outlets (Tesco, One Stop, Sainsbury’s and Little Waitrose, M and S food outlets) to mop up and exploit changing consumer habits.

My nearest high street in Gorleston is booming, it would be fair to say, with a new cinema opening soon, but sadly this move to smaller and local is not improving the much-maligned but still, I reckon pleasant, neighbouring town of Great Yarmouth.

It will be interesting to see, in the next decade, whether this consumer drift of shopping continues and with it the re-emergence of small, independent businesses in local towns.

Now that would be great, don’t you think?

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