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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Working in a low-paid dead-end job in a call centre, living with the parents and approaching 30 an old friend of mine made a decision – to pack their bags and head for New Zealand on a 12 month work visa. This was a few years back and they haven’t looked back, moving after their first year to Australia.

And they’re not the only one. Recently I’ve noticed more and more people have been following in this intrepid friends footsteps, in fact rarely a day goes by without hearing about some other person moving to Australia. But what do the stats have to say?

My first stop is the official statistics produced by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. What I’m interested in particularly is the numbers of working holiday visas – these are the ones granted to young people aged 18-30 and which last 12 months.


And here it is:

Though the figure has fallen slightly for 2009/10 the trend over the period shows a gradual increase suggesting that in the past few years an increasing number of young people are taking the opportunity to leave the UK for Australia using a Working Holiday visa.

Rather interestingly the graph shows the peak period for the number of Working Holiday visas granted was in 2008/09 coinciding with the recession. During this period some 40 182 Working Holiday visas were granted to UK citizens.

Part of the explanation may be the rising popularity of a ‘gap-year’, but as the visas are open to all people aged for 18-30 there may be another group taking increasing advantage of the Working Holiday visa programme;  Twentysomethings who lack ties such as a family or mortgage (due to their unaffordability) and who find career aspirations unfulfilled, either through unemployment or the growth of the dead-end job and who therefore find both possible and attractive the prospect of leaving the UK.


changing habits; more food and clothing being sold online

changing habits; more food and clothing being sold online

I’ve always had a bit of an interest in retail, which led to my not-so-long-ago unscientific walk-round of the West Quay shopping centre, so couldn’t resist looking at the latest stats on the retail sales.  Probably the biggest trend of the last decade has to be the growth in internet shopping This graph, based on ONS data, shows the year on year growth in total retail sales for January 2013.

A couple of changes here are interesting. The first is the growth internet sales among predominantly food retailers. According to the ONS in January 2013 £96.2 million, some 3.7% of sales for food stores, was online which was a record proportion for the segment.

This is undoubtedly down to the rise in supermarket online shopping. I know it’s a service I’ve been using more often in the past 12 months, and will do more of in the future and now there’s click-and-collect. It all adds up to a major change in habits, although in many ways it’s a throwback to the not-so-distant past where we all used to get our milk and papers delivered to our door, a world destroyed by the supermarkets with their impressive product ranges and all-in-one-place convenience. The internet has succeeded by delivering our cake and letting us eat it.

Another interesting point, not in terms of size, but perhaps significance, is the growth of internet sales in the textile, clothing and footwear stores sector. In January 2013 a not insignificant 10.6% of sales in this group were made via the internet. This is significant as this is a segment where the internet would seem to have some distinct disadvantages over in-person shopping; Whilst items like books, CDs and DVDs are all standardised products clothing is much less standardised with sizes varying between stores  hence the fitting-room, which, at least for the time-being, is not something which can be replicated easily on the internet.

Despite this however, online sales have grown and businesses such as ASOS (part of the non-store retailing group) have thrived. A change in our habits perhaps, are we more willing to buy without trying on, or to buy, try at home and return?  If so then we’ve only seen the beginning of the transformation the internet will bring to the high-street.

It’s easy to knock the project of to measure the nations well-being – indeed it’s been variously dubbed pointless, a waste of money or an exercise in stating-the-bleeding-obvious whilst there have also been questions about how reliable a measure of well-being asking a person to gave a rating between 0 – 10 is.

This graph however, puts the whole project into context:

Source: ONS

Source: ONS

The graph shows what appears to be a strong correlation (R = -0.88) between the suicide rate and reported levels of life-satisfaction when these are organised in age categories.

Source ONS:Life Satisfaction ratings 0-10 where 0 in not at all satisfied and 10 is completely satisfied. Suicide rate = suicides per 100 000 population

Source ONS:
Life Satisfaction ratings 0-10 where 0 in not at all satisfied and 10 is completely satisfied. Suicide rate = suicides per 100 000 population

What this suggests is a spectrum of well-being; In terms of age for groups where the overall average level of life satisfaction is lower rates of extreme emotional distress, as indicated by suicide, are correspondingly higher.

The importance of well-being therefore cannot be overstated.

In a slight departure form my usual type of article here I write about a trip, earlier today, around my local high-street. I’ve always had an interest in retail and think one of my dream jobs is as a retail analyst. This is my unconsidered opinion…. 

Some of my earliest memories are of being reluctantly dragged up and down the high street on a Saturday afternoon; Principles, Richards, Dorothy Perkins, Etam, Chelsea Girl, Fosters, Woolies and if I was lucky a toy shop at the end, or even as a special treat a Wimpy, Burger King or McDonalds at the end.

Gaining my independence later-on I became a mall-rat. Getting the bus into town and hanging out all day with the rest of the ‘cool’ kids outside HMV trying to get the attention of the Queen-of-the-scene who worked there. I watched as new shopping centres were built (I even helped build the biggest West Quay) and new brands came to town Tower Records, H & M, Karen Millen, Office, Schu and a whole host of others. It was a boom time.

But times change and the high-street boom has turned to a bust. The brands which for years seemed all-conquering are struggling and the weakest have been wiped from the retail map. For me too; A wife, kids and better things to do as well as an aversion to gridlock and sky-high parking charges mean I’m a a less frequent visitor to the town-centre than I used to be.

So it was unusual unusual that earlier this afternoon I found myself with just over an hour to spare on the high-street, and what better way of spending my time than carrying out some observation. My research question for the day is to find what retailers are on the danger list.

My first port of call is HMV. In the Old days music took centre stage, but these days it’s relegated to the basement. I’m here looking for an old Dr Dre album, but they don’t have it. In anycase it would probably be more expensive than online. Only three other, rather elderly, people are browsing the isles at the moment and I leave wondering when was the last time I bought anything here.

In the old days food on the high-street meant a burger, but these days there’s a whole world of choice. Places like Nandos, Wagamama and Yo Sushi quietly all expanding amidst the downturn. There’s also nibbles like donuts and cookies available in most shopping malls. Krispy Kreme donuts however never looks that busy and today is no exception. Two members of staff behind the counter and one customer sat own. It’s not looking good.

Waterstone’s is next. I love Waterstone’s, and by the look of the number of people in here I’m not alone.  But the question is does anyone buy in here anymore? Or do, like me, they simply use Waterstone’s to browse and then buy online. You can’t blame Waterstone’s for feeling hard-done by. Maybe they should charge an entry fee of, say 50p and let you walk around with pencil and paper making notes. The truth is that online might be cheaper, but for browsing it’s rubbish – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been disappointed with an Amazon purchase which has turned out to be not quite what I’m looking for.

The shops which seem most quiet on my walk-round are the high-priced clothing stores; Karen Millen, French Connection, Monsoon, All Saints and the Levi’s shop barely muster a handful of customers between them. Goldsmith’s the jewellers is also empty, though jewellers always tend to be so it’s hard to read anything into this.

The Apple store is, as ever, heaving. Its probably the coolest shop on the block right now. It has no window which invites people to just walk in and the design is unorthodox which exudes this maverick silicon-valley charm – the place where CEO’s show up to work in Nike trainers. Young, fresh, cool it says. HMV take note.

I duck into Paperchase to look at the Valentines cards. The shop assistant smiles at me and two young women giggle over the cards which are all quite hip, and for the time being a step ahead of the supermarkets whose competition swallowed Clinton’s like a tidal wave – though the gap seems to be closing. I leave sensing they’ll be ok for the moment, they’re still cool. Clintons weren’t. Tatty Teddy and Me to You were just too 1980s. They’ll be all the rage in Paperchase in 5 years time.

Curry’s opposite looks dead. A huge store and I can’t see any customers, just lots of bored looking sales staff twiddling their lanyards.

My grandparents always had shares in BHS. Steady and dependable. I never go in there and within a second of setting foot I know why, I’m not a 60 year old woman, but plenty of people are and BHS seems to be ticking-over nicely. Strangely theres a Dorothy Perkins in there too. This sort of shop-within-a-shop seems to have become more widespread as retailers seek to share costs, like some 20-something young professionals in a shared house, but Dorothy Perkins and BHS seem too different to be comfortable flatmates.

Primark, or Primani as some would call it is seems busy with queues at the tills. The men’s section looks bang on trend with some sonic the hedgehog and Donald Duck sweaters. They’re clever, and they must do good research knowing their market and their customers – all important in a downturn.

Last of all WhSmith’s. A few years ago this was reportedly struggling, trying to find a place in the world after someone had moved its cheese. I bought one of my first records in WhSmith I like it by DJ H Featuring Steffi along with a Cathy Dennis record. The record section is roughly where the post office is now. A girl passes me on her way to the check-out clutching some binders. I browse the magazines, still the most impressive collection on the high-street – regaining their crown after the demise of Borders. The store is cluttered, but it’s busy so I suspect there is life in the old girl yet.

This brings to an end my un-scientific sojourn along the high-street. I’ve learned a lot in this short time. The high-end stores seem to be struggling, as do the stores which have lost their cool like HMV, or were never cool like Curry’s. Others though seem to be if not thriving then doing reasonably well. As bad as news of job losses are  the recession is performing the function of clearing out struggling retailers, providing opportunities for new businesses whilst forcing others to up their game. The high street isn’t in decline, its just changing.