Don’t blame internet for high street decline

The internet might not be responsible for killing the high street, as is popularly believed. New research by Manchester Metropolitan University says poor decisions from councils, retailers and the retail property industry are in fact driving the decline.

The High Street UK2020 research project identified 201 individual factors that affect high street success. The sale of goods and services through the internet did not make it into the top 10, being ranked at 15 – online retail sales in the UK accounting for about 15% of all retail spend.

The study identified the top five factors impacting on high street performance as:

  • Retailer representation: which retailers are represented on the high street. Is there a mix of shop fronts and store size?
  • Accessibility: can the centre be reached by a variety of transport modes, by bus, car, or bike?
  • Out-of-town development: are there nearby out-of-town retail parks or poorly linked edge-of-town developments?
  • Convenience: can people shop in the town centre without much effort?
  • Leadership: is there a clear and realistic plan for the centre?

Researcher Simon Quin said, “About 38% of a town’s performance can be explained by factors that it can influence locally”.

“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.”

Cathy Parker, professor of retail, place and consumer change at Manchester Met and lead investigator for High Street UK2020, which is backed by The Economic and Social Research Council, said: “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.

“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.”

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