High street shops need to work together with communities and local authorities to survive, focusing on appearance, accessibility and crime rate among other factors, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) urges in a report released today.
The BRC points out 12% of high street premises across the UK are currently vacant – a threefold increase since last autumn. But it says the problem of ailing town and village centres isn’t just a result of the downturn – rather that ‘recession is accelerating a trend of decline that was already underway’.
The report points to the importance of public spaces and design; keeping retail crime and anti-social behaviour down; ensuring parking and local transport make it as easy as possible for customers to reach shops; and closely monitoring economic health of the area. It also urges the government to not impose any more business rate burdens on struggling retailers, and suggests ‘a responsible and inclusive approach from local authorities to the money they raise and spend’.
This advice from the BRC is sage. A shopping trip isn’t just about the product you want to buy – it’s about the whole experience: getting there with ease, appreciating your surroundings, spending time browsing and relaxing, feeling comfortable.
The more a consumer enjoys a shopping expedition, the more often they’ll do it and the longer each time will become. A pretty, clean, safe and accessible town centre benefits not just one retailer, but all of them – a consumer having a nice time will drift from shop to shop rather than rushing home.
We hope local authorities take the BRC’s suggestions on board. But in the meantime, individual retailers can begin making a difference, and urging neighbouring premises to do the same. Remove graffiti as soon as possible, keep your shop front tidy and enticing, provide parking spaces for customers wherever possible (the BRC points to Chester’s successful free parking after 3 pm initiative that tackled dwindling afternoon footfall).
A small amount of time spent just checking everything looks as good as it can makes the world of difference cumulatively.
If you’re a retailer in an area that’s dwindling, it may also be worth teaming up with other shops around you to offer mutually beneficial deals, or suggesting to your local authority a day when all shops offer deals on the same day and the centre becomes something like a taster fun-day, encouraging members of the community to discover and rediscover outlets they normally overlook. After all, the best shot at getting through the recession – and beyond – is by working together.