The internet is not slaughtering the high street as most of the public think but is affected more by poor choices from councils, retailers and the retail property industry, a major new report has found.
In the first study of its kind, carry out by Manchester Metropolitan University, the High Street UK2020 research project 201 individual factors that affect high street accomplishment. The sale of goods and services through the internet did not even make it into the top 10, ranked at 15. Despite all the hype, online retail sales in the UK still only account for about 15% of all retail spend.
Instead, the study identified the top five factors impacting performance as:
<li>Retailer representation – which retailers are represented on the high street. Is there a mix of shop fronts and store size?</li>
<li>Accessibility – can the centre be reached by a variety of transport modes, by bus, car, bike?</li>
<li>Out-of-town development – are there nearby out-of-town retail parks or poorly linked edge-of-town developments?</li>
<li>Convenience – can people shop in the town centre without much effort?</li>
<li>Leadership – is there a clear and realistic plan for the centre?</li>
The report took in the following towns, Alsager, Altrincham, Ballymena, Barnsley, Bristol, Congleton, Holmfirth, Market Rasen, Morley and Wrexham. ( see Press Coverage )
“About 38 per cent of a town’s performance can be explained by factors that it can influence locally,” says researcher Simon Quin.
Simon Quin goes onto say “The problem is that in many locations retailers and the local authority are not collaborating and working together effectively to increase footfall, and this includes ignoring how important other town centre attractions are to people, such as events like carol services or Christmas markets.”
“Retailing is location, location, location, and retailers want to be where the major footfall is, in regional city centres and out-of-town retail parks. But we don’t believe this strategy will give the majority of retailers a resilient store portfolio,” says Professor Cathy Parker of Retail, Place and Consumer Change at Manchester Met and lead investigator for High Street UK2020, backed by The Economic and Social Research Council.
“They need to get better at fitting in and contributing to a strong and coherent overall town offer, recognising that people visit physical locations for a variety of reasons, including a good customer experience.”
“We identified a definitive list of the causes of town centre decline as well as concrete local actions that town councils, retailers and other stakeholders could take to reverse high street decline. Of course it’s a complex problem, and that’s why we had to use research methods that had originally been designed to predict the potential outcomes of The Cold War.” says Professor Cathy Parker.
Key local influence factors were identified as: optimum opening hours; town centre appearance and cleanliness; and what retailers offer.
That might mean in some more historic locations retailers should ensure their shop fronts complement the heritage, rather than undermine it with standard – sometimes imposing – signs and branding.