SHOPPING is something I miss. I’m not talking about the thud of a parcel through the letterbox, or a late-night clicking frenzy in my PJs.

And I’m definitely not referring to my supermarket trip to buy essentials. I’m talking about shopping.

When you’d meet a friend and wander through a department store.

Where you’d get spritzed with a random perfume, fondle a few scarves, peruse the lampshades, try on something ridiculous for a laugh (maybe that lampshade!) and then sit down for a cup of tea and a slice of cake in the cafe.

Feels like a fantasy, doesn’t it? And I’m worried that it might stay that way.

Debenhams is just the latest high-street stalwart to close – the 243-year-old department store will shut all its branches, and its online presence is being snapped up by Boohoo.

So long, bricks and mortar department store of dreams (and all the – mainly women’s – jobs that went with them). As I write this, ASOS is in talks to buy Topshop, which breaks my teenage heart.

I queued outside the Leeds branch in the rain to snap up the Kate Moss range and had many a formative fashion experience while cruising the aisles of the Oxford Street wonderland.

I feel sorry for today’s teens, who might never know the joy of a group shopping trip – hours spent in Tammy Girl, dousing yourselves in White Musk at The Body Shop, before hitting up HMV to flirt with boys.

Many people poked fun at the huge queues for Primark, Ikea and so on when lockdown was eased last year, but there’s something about the physical shopping experience that can’t be replicated online.

I can mark out some key moments of my life in high-street stores. Traipsing around House of Fraser with my mum to buy towels and saucepans before I went to university. Trying on designer dresses I could never afford in Selfridges with my friend Sarah (because sometimes you need to know that if you had a million bucks, you’d look like it, too).

Venturing to John Lewis with my partner Guy to buy our baby’s first pram, car seat, nappy bin and… do we really need all this stuff?

That, of course, is the big question. If shops closing down was because we were all easing up on the “stuffocation” then I’d see some positives. We all know that our rampant consumerism is destroying the planet.

Even before lockdown and a baby, I felt the stress of having too much clutter. But instead of becoming zen-like in our approach to possessions, we’ve just gone online instead.

In this respect, I’m as much to blame for the death of the high street as anyone. I wax on about independent bookshops and then buy most of my books on Amazon because it’s cheaper and convenient.

Even before lockdown, Britain was leading the world in e-commerce, with 38% of people buying something online at least once a week.* I reckon that’s easily doubled in the pandemic, and will we ever go back?

The Government has created a £92million fund to revive the UK’s “historic high streets”, but perhaps we don’t need to save IRL shops, we just need to change them.

Rather than betting shops and boarded-up windows, there could besoft plays, meditation pods and retail experiences. Imagine if department stores could become part of the community?

If, instead of just flogging stock, they provided entertainment and places to learn and hang out. I’d buy into that idea any day.

  • Follow Kate on Instagram @katewillswrites.

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