‘Convenience Culture’ Drives High Street Revival

August 13, 2014 12:40 pm

Happy Mansfield town centre shoppers

Mansfield and Loughborough are featured as examples of best practice in a new in-depth study into the state of British high street that reveals how town centres are adapting to meet the changing demands of the nation’s consumers.

Researchers at Southampton University reveal how “fundamental” changes to Britain’s “convenience culture” are transforming the way we shop and bringing new business into town.

 New High Streets Minister, Penny Mordaunt,  welcomed the study’s findings as proof that the country’s most dynamic and flexible town centres were experiencing a retail resurgence despite the competitive pressures of internet shopping and out-of-town stores.

 Two East Midlands towns have been hailed as good examples of enhancing the town centre experience. Mansfield and Loughborough both feature as case studies in the report.   It comes as the Department for Communities and Local Government and leading retail experts step up the summer search to find the best high streets in Britain.

 In one of the most definitive studies into consumer habits ever conducted in Britain, the University of Southampton Retail Research Group discovered there has been a “fundamental shift” in what consumers mean by “convenience” shopping. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s this was defined as one-stop shopping in big out-of-town developments but increasingly convenience means “topping up” the groceries in local stores.

 “Convenience retail in town centres/high streets, both independently and corporately owned, has experienced significant growth over the past 15 years, a growth sustained during the economic crisis and subsequent period of austerity,” the report finds. That trend is expected to continue over the next five years, with convenience stores accounting for a quarter of the entire grocery market by 2019. Over the same period the market share for superstores is expected to fall from 42 per cent to 34.9 per cent.

The study also concludes there has been a “modest resurgence” in specialist retailers such as “artisanal bakers, butchers and tea and coffee merchants” in high streets where independent stores stand alongside big high street names.

At the same time retailers are exploiting opportunities created by on-line shopping – particularly with the rise in click and collect buying. Within five years, seven out of ten on-line shoppers will prefer to collect goods themselves rather than risk missing a delivery at home.

The study also finds the “leisure aspect of shopping trips is a significant driver of footfall” and that high streets that include a good range of cafes, bars, restaurants not only increase the “dwell time but the average spent during trips to town”.

The Southampton study, “High street performance and evolution“, suggests that the long-term shifts towards leisure, health and beauty services – such as nail salons, hair dressers and gyms – will continue. While consumer spending on leisure is projected to increase over the next ten years, spending on “recession-related” retail, like pawnbrokers and betting shops, will slow.

 “New relationships are being established in town centres and high streets, creating opportunities and contributing to their resilience,” the study concludes.

 Minister Penny Mordaunt said: “This report shows our high streets to be adaptable, creative and resilient.  The Great British High Street competition is a chance to showcase those strengths, to bust myths about the long-term future of our town centres and to reward the local talent, team-work and energy that goes into making our high streets great places to visit, work or live.”

 Simon Roberts, Managing Director, Health and Beauty UK and Republic of Ireland, Alliance Boots, and Future High Streets Forum Co-Chairman said: “We welcome the report’s findings and to continuing to work with the Future High Street Forum to drive this agenda forward.  High Streets are changing with clear evidence of effective business engagement and leadership making a real difference.   Town centres matter to our customers – they are at the heart of many communities, providing identity as well as growth, development and jobs.

 “The Great British High Street competition provides an excellent opportunity to recognise and celebrate some of the fantastic work being delivered at local level to strengthen town centre prosperity. We are delighted to work with the Future High Street Forum member organisations to offer our support to high streets across the UK, together making them great places for our customers.”

 The competition is being run by the Future High Streets Forum and the Association of Town Centre Management until August 30.   There are seven categories: city centres, town centres, market towns, coastal communities, villages, parades and London.   Winners will receive a share of £50,000 prize money, provided by Forum sponsors, as well as access to a tailored package of support and mentoring from industry experts. This could range from one to one coaching to advice on creating business plans to attending workshops on digital marketing.

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