Consumers continue to desert the High Street.

Consumers continued to desert the High Street in March, a study has found.

According to the latest Experian Footfall UK National Index, shopper numbers fell 1.7% across the UK.

The group also reiterated its warnings that the country’s High Streets face becoming ghost-town areas. Across the UK, 15% of retail floor-space is now unoccupied, with some towns recording a vacancy rate of 39%

However, despite the dire warnings for the High Street, retail parks fared well in the latest Experian study with shopper numbers rising 0.5%

I guess it’ll come as no surprise to most retailers as it’s a trend that has been  happening for many years. The High Street has become an unpleasant shopping experience with expensive or lack of parking and over zealous Parking Wardens. The pavements are often strewn with rubbish and poorly maintained.

My local High Street is, thankfully, still vibrant but has been taken over by coffee shops, restaurants, nail bars and hairdressers. The butchers, fruiterers and bakers have gone replaced by late night ‘convenience stores’. The clothing shops have closed or moved to Shopping Centres. Travel Agents have lost the battle with the Internet and even the Banks and Building Societies have contracted with the various mergers in recent times.

The planners have tried their best to retain the ‘integrity’ of the local High Streets but faced with the choice of an empty shop or a Pizza Express you can see their dilemma.

Is this a bad thing? Probably not.

Social attitudes change and life adapts. Many consumers prefer the anonanimity of selecting their meat at Tescos than risk appearing ignorant at their local butcher. The easy parking and temperature controlled environment of the shopping centres make it a pleasant shopping experience and the Retail Parks allow larger units at lower costs per sq. ft., to increase the offer of their products.

The High Streets are now becoming leisure areas where you go to the bank, have a coffee, get your hair done and then have lunch. They’re becoming busy in the evenings as customers have a meal or visit the bars.

The council planners should recognise that they cannot sit like ‘King Canute’ and resist the tide of change but encourage the change of uses to allow the High Streets to survive and prosper.

Tony Heywood – Gilcrest Services Ltd
Retail Troubleshooter
Rescue and Recovery Consultant

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