Can Local Retail Survive?

There is general agreement amongst shoppers, retailers and politicians that vibrant town centres contribute to sustainable and healthy communities.

Central government, local government and economic commentators recognise the importance of local independent retailers given their ability to connect people and build a sense of local community.

Shoppers, when asked, list friendly staff, excellent service, a passion for what they do and the availability of the right products as the characteristics they most value from retailers.

In recent years, shoppers highlight the benefits of shopping locally as a way to contribute to the regeneration and sustainability of the economy.

Customers describe great local shops as having a sense of community, a warm welcome and a special atmosphere that makes them want to return again and again.

In some cases, local shops or cafes act as landmarks and provide a sense of the history of the town as they may date back for generations.

Yet, the retail sector has changed massively in recent years, not least because of the recession, out-of-town developments and on-line shopping.

The recession has reduced consumer spending; competition from out-of-town developments has changed people’s spending habits; on-line and mobile retailing now account for 10% of sales and are growing significantly.

As a result, everyone with an interest in the vitality of town centres is concerned and desperately trying to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace.

– the government highlights its commitment to prioritise town centres over out-of-town developments but in reality it is proving to be a difficult challenge

– the Portas Review makes 28 recommendations that include the development of Town Teams, Business Improvement Districts and Market Days

– retailers are lobbying government to influence policy, reduce rates, reduce taxation, change planning and improve car parking and public transport

The truth, however, is that even though government action may address some issues it cannot hold back the structural changes taking place in the retail sector in all our towns.

The solution and the only realistic solution is to compete; compete ‘off-line’ through customer service and product choice and compete ‘on-line’ through customer engagement and feedback.

SO, town centre retail competition is fierce and will continue to be so and the only effective solution is to develop the ability to compete.

What do you think? Can you compete? Get in touch, we would love to hear your views contact Nick on 028 8224 9494 or via Twitter @nick_oec.