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High street must open later to compete with online

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High street shops are being urged to stay open later in order to compete more effectively. In a world where online retailers now trade 24 hours a day, opening through the evening is seen a more effective way of meeting customer needs – rather than herding them out of shops at 6pm.

The Association of Town Centre Management (ATCM) says town centres must consider opening through the evenings in order to boost sales. It points to the findings of its own recent studies that found sales rise by as much as 50% between the hours of 5pm and 8pm, compared to those between 9am and 11am. Opening later and closing later should therefore be considered, it says.

The study looked at spending patterns in cities where later opening already occurred and found spend went up by 10 to 12%.

John Hirst, operations director at Destination Bristol, said: “Customer feedback is quite clear – they want the opportunity shop in the evening, and what we do is when the shops are busy, half five or 6pm, there are some staff in many stores herding customers out of the door when they want to shop. Currently what we’re doing is saying to them, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t want your money, please leave,’ and that can’t be right. There is an evening market which needs to be captured.”

The ATCM’s Key Cities group, which includes Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, has launched a project, UK Cities Are Alive After 5’ and is contacting 400 national retailers to demonstrate the value of the evening economy.

Jacquie Reilly, partnership and BIDs director at the ATCM, believes that most stakeholders would welcome the move to later opening hours and that what is now required is the participation of more national retailers.

She said: “Consumers' lifestyles have changed dramatically in recent years. They want to shop when it is convenient to them. Often this means when they finish work or combining a shopping trip with other leisure experiences. Out of town centres have already utilised their ready-made environment to take advantage of evening shopping to increase their market share."

Our view: This would seem to be a long-overdue recognition of the fact that consumers are today quite simply used to getting their own way. If they can’t shop in their high street past 6pm, they will go elsewhere, online. This move has been long predicted – now it’s time for the reality to catch up. This is, of course, an important move for all traders, for as has often been shown, multichannel trading is more effective in boosting sales than either having only shops or only online. And when high street sales have been suffering, as they have, there really is only one way forward.
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