Editor-At-Large: I’d rather shop with my mouse than with Mary Portas

Share
Related Topics

I've never had much time for the self-important utterances of our Speaker's wife, but when Sally Bercow failed to find much sympathy for struggling retailers on Twitter, she hit on an uncomfortable truth. According to Sally, it was "sad" that household names such as Habitat and Focus were in trouble, but not really that tragic as she never shopped at any of them. She trashed chocolate retailer Thorntons (closing 120 stores) as a "yucky-tasting rip-off", and described Carpetright (shutting up to 50 stores) as "overrated". Even Jane Norman (shedding 30 stores) got a lashing for flogging "clothes for skinny minnies".

Was Sally insensitive? It wasn't clever to mouth off at a time when tens of thousands (mostly women) will lose their jobs, but Miss Motormouth put her finger on an unpalatable truth. Consumers have fallen out of love with the high street. We have become super-picky about where we shop – increasingly, we'd rather sit at home and click. A mouse doesn't look at your arse and say they don't stock your size. A mouse isn't judgemental when you buy the cheapest in bulk. A mouse isn't on a mobile phone talking to their mate while you can't find what you want. A mouse negates the need to traipse into town, find a parking spot or spend money travelling to a superstore where you will waste an hour walking up and down an aisle. We've become super-selective. Very few brands inspire undying love in the brutal world of retail – even Marks and Spencer has started its sale two weeks early, desperate to shift stock.

I laughed when I heard that self-styled Queen of Shops Mary Portas had been asked by David Cameron to conduct a review into the parlous state of our shopping centres. She is a brilliant broadcaster, but her expertise as a professional retail analyst and consultant has been bought by companies like Westfield (whose malls could be blamed for the demise of small shops) – so how can she be impartial? More importantly, retailing has stagnated and then slumped in the last six weeks making her task close to impossible; there was a fresh bunch of closures last week when rents were due and struggling companies gave up the fight.

You can't breath life into a corpse, and the time has come to declare the British high street dead and buried. Our retail habits have changed for good. It's time to be bold and think what we might turn our decaying city centres into, not pay Mary Portas to administer temporary oxygen and a sticking plaster. The terminal decline is painfully obvious. Last weekend I visited Folkestone, where, like hundreds of towns, shop after shop in the pretty old part of town was boarded up, and even in the modern pedestrianised shopping area there were empty premises galore and the pound shop had become a 99p emporium.

A spokesman from Asda alludes to a "toxic mix of facts and fear" as government talk of bailing out bankrupt EU countries as well as the constant drip of cost-cutting terrifies shoppers into restraint. The "average household" tracked by Asda has seen its disposable income drop by 8 per cent in a year – the largest dip the retailer has recorded – to only £165 a week. Some families are £60 a month worse off than a year ago, as prices for some basic foods have risen by 25 per cent, petrol by 13 per cent and transport by 8 per cent. Inflation is running at 4.5 per cent, twice the rate of earnings growth.

Nervous about our future, we're buying carefully. The Bank of England says we're in for "an uncomfortable" few years. If we're not shopping, that's bad news for the 10 per cent of the workforce that's in retail, and even worse news for the economy, where consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of GDP. I didn't shed a tear for Habitat, and I prefer Whitakers' chocs to Thorntons'. Like Sally B, and plenty of you, I have become a ruthless online shopper, endlessly comparing goods. Online there are millions of quirky brands that prosper without having to pay rent in the high street or employ lacklustre shop assistants. Online is the future, and Mary Portas and her doomed review won't make an iota of difference. Turn those boarded-up shops into affordable housing, youth clubs, galleries and schools – they'll never be a grocer's or a butcher's again.

Serpentine party has gone from swanky to manky

The Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens is a small space in a wonderful location which punches above its weight for one reason. For 11 years, it has commissioned acclaimed architects such as Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry to construct a temporary summer pavilion, launched with a swanky fundraising party attended by trendy London. That's where Princess Diana pitched up when her marriage hit the buffers, wearing a stunning off-the-shoulder black frock. If past visitor numbers are a guide, up to 800,000 will wander through this year's offering by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose austere single-storey construction surrounds a contemplative garden. Sadly, the glamorous launch party has degenerated into a trashy parade of heavily accented women with little interest in art and every interest in snaring a rich bloke. Their dresses were short, frontless and backless, and they struggled to navigate the soggy turf in their Louboutins. Luckily, the cloisters in the pavilion provided welcome shelter from the persistent drizzle. The garden these looked on to wouldn't have been accepted for the Chelsea Flower show and the building itself isn't as sexy as a prefab. This time, the hype falls far short of the reality.

This charmless man is at it again

Yes, the world's biggest misery is at it again. Morrissey has been moaning on the music website Pitchfork. He hasn't got a record company and he's not releasing his new songs for free. The press only write about him "in terms of the Smiths", and when he played Glastonbury "the rain was bitingly cold and the audience were soaked and covered in wet mud and it was dark and dismal and every time I opened my mouth I swallowed rain. Under such conditions you can't really expect much from an audience. I think they were there for U2 anyway". Contrast this with Take That, touring the UK and playing eight shows at Wembley stadium in all weathers. We haven't heard Gary, Robbie or Jason whingeing about rain in their mouths.

Meet the gleaming neighbours

The normally restrained residents of swanky Hancock Park in Los Angeles are beside themselves about the impending visitof Kate and William. The royal couple will be staying at the mansion of our Consul-General, Dame Barbara Hay, designed byWallace Neff in 1928. Neighbours have been asked to sign privacy agreements, but the folk next door – Emily Harrison and hermother Bunny – have been blabbing to the press. Regular guests at Dame Barbara’s parties, they plan to get spray tansand have their teeth whitened in case they “run into” Kate. Teeth whitening has replaced seeing a chiropodist, getting your rootstinted or having your legs waxed as the beauty treatment that can’t be skimped. When we’re 90, we’ll still have the bright teeth of 10-year-olds … which could look a bit freaky.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager - Telecoms - OTE £23,000

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has bec...

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Larry Fink, the boss of fund manager BlackRock , is among those sounding the alarm  

Not all discounts are welcome: Beware the myopia of company bosses

Ben Chu
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black death: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen