LDC - with whom WeAreWaterloo are working to look at our own high streets - do vital work to measure footfall and vacancy rates, using academic partners to analyse data to extrapolate long term trends.
So what did we find out? My main takeaways were:
- For the first time in a long while, the number of openings is higher than the number of closures, and with almost 47,000 retail openings last year, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to take a punt on the retail game.
- Concern remains for the impact of Brexit, the devaluation of the pound and rising inflation, not to mention business rates and higher wage costs. We may see these rising costs being reflected in prices at the checkout.
- The data (and the experiences of the panel, which included John Upton, MD of Leon and Darren Williams of modern tea emporium T2) shows that technology is nothing to be scared of. While internet shopping continues to grow, the impact on vacancies is no longer apparent. Indeed, the best retailers are using bricks and mortar to bolster internet sales and vice versa.
- There is a growing disparity between the north and the south, with London remaining in the inevitable bubble. The high street is on the ascendancy with retail parks doing even better and shopping centres lagging interns of vacancies.
- Food and beverage currently props up the market, with innovations like Deliveroo increasing opportunities for people to buy from their favourite restaurants. However, restaurateurs need to keep an eye on how looking after the needs of takeaway customers might impact on the dining experience for those who have made the trip out.
Finally, and most importantly, the sense is that the high street will remain healthy so long as it can adapt and reinvent, providing experiences rather than just shops or restaurants.
The take home message for retailers is, in the words of Jat Sahota of LandSec: 'The customer will never forgive you for being boring'.
The BID plans to develop an event soon to discuss these issues in a more local context.