Claire Smith: Time to bring the fun back into going to the shops

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IN the world of retail January is the hardest month. After the Christmas rush comes the Christmas rent – and the creditors rapping on the door.

This week Jessops camera shops went into administration with a possible loss of up to 2,000 jobs.

It comes as no surprise that a store which specialised in camera equipment ran into trouble because of the rise of smartphones. No matter how well Jessops fought its corner it was unlikely to survive such an erosion in popularity for its core product.

But the word on the high street is that Jessops is unlikely to be the only casualty this winter. At the end of last year insolvency accountants Begbies Traynor said as many as 140 high street retailers were on the critical list because of the recession and the rise in internet shopping.

Having a good internet presence is crucial but it is also important for physical high street shops to make themselves as attractive as possible.

One of the reasons John Lewis does well is with no shareholders it can invest a third of its profits into sprucing up its stores.

So what else can retailers do to make sure people keep coming through their doors, rather than sitting at home going Click, Click, Click?

Last year I met futurologist William Higham, who said retailers need to develop a sense of theatre if Britain’s high streets are going to save themselves from terminal decline. Shopping needs to become entertainment and it’s a matter of economic necessity.

Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh, which is reporting a healthy Christmas season, is a prime example of a shop with a noticeable sense of fun. I can’t be the only person who wanders through the store sniffing perfume, nibbling cheese and trying on tiaras for a laugh. I’m sure other people do the same – and they might even have enough money to buy stuff.

It might seem counter- intuitive during a recession but becoming more Absolutely Fabulous might help save the high street.