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Chris van Schaick shares his theory on why high street business is slow

PUBLISHED: 12:41 22 May 2015 | UPDATED: 12:41 22 May 2015

Getty Images/Creatas RF

Getty Images/Creatas RF

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With the current decline of the Great British High Street, this month Chris van Schaick shares his theory on why business could perhaps be so slow

I sometimes hear experts on the news talk about retail footfall. It’s their jargon for people walking past the front door of a shop. The phrase seems to carry an implication that if a shopkeeper gets you as far as their threshold, they’ve as good as got one hand on your wallet.

But, I’ve begun to realise how often visiting a shop can bear very little relation to actually parting with any money. You see ‘Not Shopping’ has, in my mind, become a great British leisure activity.

Take, for instance, a typical trip to M&S at Hedge End with Mrs. v. S. Once inside, our talk tends to follow a familiar pattern. First: “There’s nothing much I like in the clothes.” Followed by: “That dining table’s nice but we can’t afford it this year.” Then: “Well, we better get some milk.” And finally: “Let’s go and have a coffee.” The total outlay for our pilgrimage to the retail cathedral can be as little as six quid.

I managed to part with even less cash on a recent visit to West Quay. My net spend, excluding the car park, was about minus 0.2 pence. I’d just been to some corporate meeting at Ocean Village and needed to send some emails from my iPhone. But the battery was flat. So I trudged along to the Apple Store and asked if I could charge the phone there. I have to say the Apple chaps were lovely. They showed me where to plug in under a bench and pretty much left me alone. With their free electricity, I ended fractions of a penny up on the deal.

On another trip to an outlet village, I actually walked out even more in credit. I’d made an online purchase for Christmas - a lovely jacket for Mrs v.S. that turned out to be too big. When we took it back for an exchange, the price of the jacket had been reduced in the sales. Mrs. v. S. took a deep breath and pointed out the discrepancy. Out we tripped with a jacket of the right size and a gift card for the difference. Walking out of a shop richer than when you walked in –now that’s my idea of shopping.

Even on her own shopping trips, Mrs. v. S. often demonstrates what might be called a cost-neutral approach. She’ll stagger in from town, plonk down at the table and say: “I’ve bought some shoes but I’m taking them back.”

I think this ‘Not Shopping’ all amounts to what the business gurus call a disruptive model. In the old days, people went to shops and spent money. But that paradigm, as the gurus would call it, is proving to be so 20th Century.

I’m beginning to wonder if these cashless shopping trips undertaken by Mrs v. S and I are the real cause of the sad state of the British high street. As I toss and turn during a night of fitful sleep, I’m sometimes assailed by a nightmare vision of Mary Portas, with a film crew at her shoulder. She’s hammering at the front door and shouting at me to spend some flippin’ money.

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Chris Van Schaick on dealing with conference calls as a home worker - The trend for video conferencing is inflicting all sorts of sartorial demands on the slovenly home worker - but thankfully only from the waist up.

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