Last year, I highlighted the uneven playing field for store-based retail in relation to pure play, which does not face onerous rent and rates bills and is not even expected to make a profit.

Last year, I highlighted the uneven playing field for store-based retail in relation to pure play, which does not face onerous rent and rates bills and is not even expected to make a profit.

Subsequently, this has been further accentuated by the debate over the significant tax advantages enjoyed by Amazon and other multinationals, the rash of retail casualties and the accelerating growth of online sales over the critical Christmas trading period.

Online now accounts for almost 11% of total retail sales, which means that for non-food it is around 15%.

And when I watch my three-year-old grandson’s facility with an iPad I know that growth projections for online sales will prove to be hopelessly conservative.

We are living through a long-term structural shift equivalent to the coming of the railways in the 19th century, with many high streets the equivalent of the coaching inns. There is a tipping point where the uneven playing field becomes a very slippery slope.

To date, retailers have correctly focused on the creation of an integrated, seamless multichannel offer but have yet to face up to the full implications for store numbers, their size and configuration.

In the absence of more radical action and thought, I fear that many retailers are slowly but surely sleepwalking to their own funerals. Shopping online is increasingly perceived to be ‘smart’ whereas it is the less ‘savvy’ or disadvantaged consumer who still relies on stores.

Add the perception that online is cheaper - a perception that its transparency creates and that retailers reinforce with endless coupon promotions - and service levels that often surprise in contrast to those in-store, and the uphill battle for store-based retailers is evident.

We need to reinvent the high street. The political response has been no more than cosmetic PR. Real Government leadership is required to rezone the high street to provide for new housing development, which should include the provision of free parking both for residents and visitors. This in itself will help to resolve the housing shortage without threatening the countryside, while providing additional customer traffic.

Tomorrow’s high street must be focused on residential and leisure activities rather than shopping. Leaving aside the convenience offers, which will continue to prosper, the remaining shops will focus on experience rather than the display of goods, while many will act primarily as collection points.

Argos, for example, has a huge plus: its stores are already ideally configured to be collection points, not only for Argos but for Amazon etc. Just create two collection points: on the right for Argos and on the left for other retailers with which Argos forms an alliance.

Cooperation rather than competition - and new hybrid formats - should be the order of the day. In Falmouth, for example, I note the opening of Beerwolf Books, a pub incorporating a book store. Now that’s a format I could develop a taste for.

  • John Richards, retail consultant, McQueen