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Policy must reflect the ‘convenience culture’ that’s now shaping high streets

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Convenience culture is helping to lead high streets out of recession and highlights the need for town centres to adapt to the way shoppers want to buy – which now very firmly includes online – argue UK social scientists in a new report.

Academics who have contributed Evolving High Streets: Resilience and Reinvention – perspectives from social science, led by the University of Southampton’s Retail Research Group, suggest that public policy must now recognise and respond to these changes.

“As Government ministers have consistently observed, high streets need to adapt in order to survive and it is not in anyone’s interests to attempt to preserve an historic stereotype of the high street dominated by traditional trades,” said Professor Neil Wrigley of the University of Southampton, who edited the research and is also the only academic member of the Government’s Future High Streets Forum.

“Rather policy should be focused on facilitating the creation of spaces which will have future value for local economies and communities. In particular, town centres and high streets which strike new balances between traditional retail, services, housing community and social uses, entertainment and cultural activities.”

Shanaaz Carroll, acting chief executive of the ATCM (Association of Town Centre Managers) and Dr Andres Coca-Stefaniak of the University of Greenwich co-authored a paper included in the report, Managing town centres during the crisis: from retail-focussed management to the experience economy and beyond. Coca-Stefaniak says an overreliance on retail has significantly increased the risk of local economic regression since 2008. “Worryingly many town centres are still anchored in the past in terms of their service offer and strategic positioning,” he said. “Consumers’ expectations from the high street today go well beyond filling their shopping basket, which they can do online anyway. Instead, people expect an experience. The management of town centres is beginning to reflect this but will need to evolve further by adopting more sophisticated approaches to the experience economy by providing a mixed and compelling offer to attract local residents and visitors alike.”

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