So we’re in recession again. Cue further rending of garments and raise the wailing a semitone or two. The tune’s becoming familiar now.

So we’re in recession again. Cue further rending of garments and raise the wailing a semitone or two. The tune’s becoming familiar now.

Even so there’s still plenty of denial out there from some landlords and the majority of government. Both seem to feel that the good times are but a couple of ONS updates away, while another slew of retail collapses passes by their rose-tinted Raybans.

This is only the fifth recession since the Great Depression, but the extra ingredient now is of course the internet, which has saved many others from joining the casualty list. 

The gathering exodus to online owes as much to its position as an alternative to the increasingly unsustainable costs of doing business on the high street as it does to improvements in technology and availability.

It’s a given that the retail landscape will be a very different place once we get through the current unpleasantness. It’s not too much of a stretch to see a future where real-world stores will be viewed as an anachronistic adjunct to ‘proper’ shops on the web. 

But as much as I’m a willing participant in this utopian dream, incipient paranoia prompts me to turn the question on its head and ask not what effect this will have on the high street, but what impact it will have online?

Government is already closing tax loopholes that gave advantages to online operations. Could the next step be a web tax? A crazy idea, but then so was a 5.6% increase in business rates during the worst downturn for 20 years.

Meanwhile Amazon, Google and Apple work towards controlling all levels of the supply chain. Who’s to say what price they’ll put on an invitation to their party once they’ve achieved total dominance?

Hopefully this is just grey sky thinking, and personally I’m embracing a brave new retail world which once again nurtures individuality and enterprise. 

But I’m realistic enough to see that my optimism about it could all too easily be dashed by the same forces that are now effectively stifling those ideals in the real world.

  • Ian Middleton, Managing director and co-founder, Argenteus