The existential crisis of traditional shopping streets: the sun model and the place attraction paradigm

This 2021 academic article by Matthew Carmona examines the challenges the growth in online shopping has posed to traditional shopping streets. It introduces ‘the sun model of shopping choices’, outlining some key reasons why people might still prefer to shop on a physical high street, such as social interactions and immediacy of purchase. The paper also puts forwards a ‘place attraction paradigm’, which sets out the importance of optimising convenience, directing choice, facilitating leisure, and encouraging social interactions for high street survival.

Date added 21 September 2021
Last updated 21 September 2021

This academic article examines the challenges the growth in online shopping has posed to traditional shopping streets. It begins by detailing some of the historical changes impacting high streets, such as the movement economy, growth in car-based urbanisation, and the birth of the internet and subsequent rise in online shopping. More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic is cited as a major force for change on traditional shopping streets. As the author argues, the crisis, '...offered the perfect environment for super-charging the technology-based takeover of many lives' (p. 3).

To better understand consumers’ differing shopping choices, and why physical high streets may remain attractive, the article introduces 'the sun model of shopping choices’. The model posits that key factors influencing people to shop online are around the '3Cs’ of certainty, convenience, and choice; that cost, leisure, and information influences both online and physical shopping choices; and that immediacy, social interactions, and not having access to technology influence physical shopping choices. There remains, therefore, reasons why consumers might prefer to shop in person, such as touching products in store (e.g. food), more immediate purchases, in-person social interactions, and so those without technological access can obtain needed goods. These factors are further divided into those relating to individual units and those which are wider place-based factors.

Finally, a key question addressed in the article is: what key place-based interventions might help to pave a future for traditional shopping streets? The author suggests there are three main strategies local and national governments might take: the first, a Darwinian strategy of survival of the fittest; the second, an interventionist strategy actively supporting physical retail against online shopping; and finally, a mixed model striking more of a balance between the two. The article concludes with case studies of approaches taken to reinvent England’s high streets, in addition to providing a ‘place attraction paradigm’, which sets out how high streets could be successful going forwards, including through:

  • Optimising convenience – traditional shopping streets to be planned, designed and curated to meet the needs of time-poor and choice rich consumers.
  • Directing choice – cater for diverse user needs, striking a balance between shopping and other activities.
  • Facilitating leisure – stimulate experience-hungry users by building fun into street activity programming, design, and mix of uses.
  • Encouraging social interactions – ensuring everyone feels welcome and comfortable to dwell in the space.