September’s retail footfall figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and Springboard showed a sharp drop (2.2% down on last year) in the number of shoppers in high-street stores.
What does this mean for the high street – is this another step in its slow demise, as online retailers continue to get stronger, or is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Ever since Amazon made it possible for consumers to order anything they wanted, delivered in less than 24 hours, right from the comfort of their own living room, physical stores have had to re-think how they engage with their customers.
We have seen anything and everything: in-store DJs; cookie stands alongside hat stands; and, of course, the revolutionary click-and-collect method (blending online and offline), all in an effort to retain customer interest. Yet as our streets get busier and queues for parking longer, is there an alternative? Whilst our high streets might not be having the best time, out-of-town shopping is bucking the trend – up 1.1% – as consumers seek out alternatives to urban spending.
With ease of access and free parking, mixed with an increasingly attractive proposition compared with five or ten years ago – when they were dominated by electrical and DIY retailers – retail parks are filling a gap in the market. We are now witnessing more and more high street brands opening stores out-of-town. The likes of Next, River Island, H&M, TK Maxx and Boots are acquiring larger stores in retail parks throughout the country, while also trading in nearby town centres.
Although retailers improving their offer to attract customers is nothing new, it is interesting to see how bright out-of-town retail is looking. Fundamentally, both urban and out-of-town locations offer different benefits and challenges for retailers, but there is little room for complacency if bricks and mortar wants to continue its fight against the ever-growing online retailing market. As our town centres get busier and busier as Christmas gets closer, will we see Santa Claus coming to (out of) town? Watch this space…