Twenty or more years ago I wrote an article for this magazine which sought to explain a major shift in shopping habits. At the time, in Dulwich Village, as elsewhere, the traditional anchor shops such as a butcher’s, fishmongers, baker’s and greengrocer’s had disappeared and their places were being filled with cafes and estate agencies.
The explanation I gave for this was the steady growth of car ownership over the preceding decades coupled with a huge increase in female employment, partly caused by a notional parity in wages with their male counterparts. I suggested that, in Dulwich at least, some of the increase in female employment was as a result of the rapid increase in independent school fees which families were willing to pay because of the, then, almost total absence of satisfactory state secondary schools.
These factors, I suggested, had led to the growth of large supermarkets where car parking was provided and the weekly shop could be done in one visit, a necessity for working families where spare time was short. In the article I also predicted that in time household food and essentials would one day be delivered to customers’ doors from distant warehouses.
That situation has now arrived, home grocery deliveries are becoming the norm, the ‘traditional’ supermarkets are under threat with reduced customer flow and the situation is is leading to a new dynamic. People are preferring specialist local shops where they can augment the basic list of shopping now delivered to their door. At the same time, the rapid growth of internet shopping is changing other markets and putting some bricks and mortar businesses, such as bookshops under threat.
This recent and rapid growth of home deliveries is not without its own problems however. People have to be at home to receive the deliveries. Roads are becoming increasing snarled up with delivery vans of all types. The convenience shop concept being rolled out by supermarkets to augment home deliveries requires delivery lorries for its own stores to be of a huge size to reduce transport costs. Delivery drivers of internet ordered goods are required to make at least 120 separate deliveries per day, on average the number is around 140 drops but on occasions drivers are required to deliver to as many as 170 different addresses in one day. So far drivers’ hours are only loosely regulated as most are subcontractors. It is exhausting work and with such long hours, possibly dangerous.
Shops and shopping habits come and go. And often come around again. While some residents are surprised, even shocked to learn that a Sainsbury’s Local will replace Shepherds, in Dulwich Village, older Dulwich people will recall that a branch of United Dairies once stood nearby. The bicycle shop which formerly traded at West Dulwich and closed through a decline in enthusiasm for cycling would be amazed to find that, twenty years later, the sport has taken off again and no less than four cycle shops have opened locally.
What’s next? Do not be surprised if Dulwich’s local banks are the next businesses to disappear as people are increasingly obliged to use internet banking to manage their affairs. At Herne Hill this has already happened.
Eating out is still a popular social pastime and pubs have been replaced by restaurants and coffee shops where women often feel more comfortable. Dulwich has lost four public houses in recent years, not counting those currently under repair. Those that remain can be more called restaurants than the traditional pub. There must be a saturation point in the number of eateries. Perhaps it has already been reached.