The Portas Review, commissioned by David Cameron, and written by Mary Portas, creates some interesting points about the current status of our nation’s high street, and suggests solutions to the bleak state that many are currently in.
The main element of the review is this importance of a high street as a social necessity. It is without a doubt that many of the social occasions we have all had growing up revolve around a town centre; the shops, cafes, and, most importantly, the people who walked around them. Personally, while I grew up on the outskirts of London, it created a community for a group of friends who due to the nature of this city, lived too far apart to have a sense of community from where we lived, so the high street became our home from home. Where you could get a panini too.
But is the news that our lives are “gradually ceasing to be a bricks and mortar world” really news to our government? Portas states the way to save our high streets is with the community taking responsibility – “Local people as co-creators and not simply consumers.” – makes sense in a physical sense, but applying this online may be beyond the possibilities we can currently achieve. Portas proposes that local people create “virtual high streets”. In her own words; “Today we all live online too. I would like Town Teams to create an online ‘bottom up’ virtual version of their high street which is the easy automatic ‘go to’ for all things to do with your local area.”
This feels like the shoehorning of ideas which Portas proposed, based on the real world, and finding an online equivalent. When thinking of how the ideas from the review could go online, surely the whole point is community; learning and sharing with each other, and not the retail aspect of it that Portas proposes. Also I highly doubt the ‘town teams’ no matter how enthusiastic they are could be capable of running a sleek and competent system such as this, which could truly compete against the likes of Amazon or Ocado, without reverting to a ‘one size fits all’ system.
There are countless attempts to socialise the experience of shopping online, through ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ but it’s far from having the same effect. Shopping online for the visible future will remain solitary exercise, no matter how much we are told it is possible to share the picture of the item with our friends on a social network. Many times these systems are born of exciting new technologies, rather than thinking about what the consumer truly wants.
So although I disagree with the system Portas proposed, I agree it would be an interesting experiment to put a system such as this, into the hands of the very consumers that will be using it every day, to see whether it would truly work for the communities and businesses who need it.