In the past decade shopping habits have changed immeasurably as we’re all too aware of; the latest high street casualties becoming a regular weekly headline. Last week we discovered that Toys R Us and Maplin were two further retailers to be leaving the high street and joining the growing number that have already joined the retail graveyard. All of these companies have something in common, the fact that they have not developed their online presence and refurbished their stores to enhance the customer experience and expectations, becoming irrelevant to consumers.
The trends are all too familiar as our shopping habits have changed considerably and internet sales have increased with one pound in every five being spent online. Retailers that have invested in their websites, online presence and in store customer experiences are able to connect with new customers and define their strategies in the current retail climate, remaining relevant.
We’ve also seen retailers over expanding and this is so in the food and beverage sector with the latest news that Prezzo is set to close nearly 100 stores, with other F & B businesses struggling to survive. Retailers have been burdened with debt from outlets that are under performing in declining towns up and down the country. Many once busy, successful high streets have suffered with empty premises further impacting on existing businesses making trading conditions challenging for all.
It is worth remembering that the health of our high streets is a marker but not a driver of local economic regeneration. Jobs being created within a town centre will drive and support the high street and its existing businesses and to a larger extent encourage new businesses to emerge. In small and medium-sized towns where jobs were previously relocated out-of-town have certainly suffered the most damage. Businesses should be encouraged to establish themselves in a town or city; supporting the community. How can we achieve this exactly?
Local authorities should be looking at bringing the focus back to jobs, leisure and rethinking planning processes and allowing reasonable change of use, giving retailers a better chance to innovate and respond to the changing consumer habits whilst allowing more people to live and work in our town centres. Collaborating with communities and stakeholders to restore our high streets and town centres to the thriving hubs they once were; with a new purpose to give consumers what they want to spend their time and money doing. We can no longer live in the past but must embrace the digital changes and the town centre of the future; whatever this will look like; we ignore these fundamental changes to consumer behaviour at our peril.
What is your experience in your local town? Have your shopping habits changed? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.