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on experiences. And if they’re given the option, they’ll do it locally. That’s why I disagree with the prediction of Philip Dorgan, a retail analyst at Panmure Gordon, who recently said, ‘The high street will become full of coffee shops, building societies, kiosks and hubs to pick up stuff.’

This is too reductive a vision. High streets also have a bright future as centres for the experiential economy. As digital channels hoover up more and more areas of retail, doing stuff will replace buying stuff as the primary function of the high street and in turn those same digital channels will facilitate the growth of thousands of new high street businesses. This brings us on to driver number four.


Digital technology has brought the cost of marketing down for high street businesses. Small independent businesses can now reach the whole of London for no or very little cost, thanks to social media, search-based advertising, daily deal sites (treat with caution) and CRM. That doesn’t just bring costs down, it opens up new possibilities, allowing high street businesses to target niche interests – and in a market the size of London, every niche is now big enough to sustain a business. Two years ago, I co-founded a small high street business called

It offers unique experiences to people interested in trying their hands at everything from perfume- to lingerie- making. There wasn’t an established market for these kinds of experience and we had a tiny marketing budget to find our target customers, who were scattered across London. We didn’t know who they were and it had probably never occurred to them that their life was missing what we had to offer. Yet, notwithstanding that tiny marketing budget, we have been able to grow a sustainable business. Before the internet, we’d have needed much deeper pockets to make it work – most likely, it would never have existed at all. Back in Brockley, local photographer Toby Allen decided to start a food market in a high street car park that was deserted at weekends. Through social media (and yes, a hell of a lot of leafleting) he filled the place on opening day and has turned it in to a weekly event that attracts people from miles around.

To encourage London’s high street renaissance, policy makers need to stop wringing their hands and do two simple things. Firstly, invest in the quality of high streets to create an environment where people enjoy spending time – plant trees, replace cracked paving and remove clutter. Secondly, stop obsessing about bringing ‘retail’ back to the high street and make it easier for experiential businesses to open – let shop space be converted in to bars,

cafes and other places where people want to spend time and let informal spaces like car parks be re-used in creative ways.

Earlier this year, a San Francisco State University study found that ‘experiential spenders’ get more well-being for their money than ‘material spenders’. Encouraging the experience economy is not only the right economic strategy for London’s high streets; it will also make Londoners happier.


® Toby Allen Photography

® Toby Allen Photography

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