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Tailoring the high street for success in the age of ecommerce

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Town centres across the UK must weigh up local factors including how much residents use ecommerce if they are to come up with the right retail strategy for the future, according to a new study.

In their soon-to-be-published joint report, The Now and Future Town Centre, Experian Marketing Services and the Association of Town Centre Management, say town centre managers need to understand the challenges that face their individual communities in order to design strategies that work for their area.

Factors that need to be taken into account include the growth of online shopping, aging populations, local economic uncertainties. Only by understanding this can managers adopt tactics that might include favourable rent and rates to support local businesses, and moves to balance budget, premium and mass retail outlets.

James Miller, lead consultant for retail and property, data and analytics, will today tell the Association of Town Centre Management’s annual summer school that town centre management is “the enabler of change needed to meet local aspirations.”

He will add: “There are many challenges ahead. In the North East, for example, 83% of town centres are in areas of low community resilience and 93% are in areas with a high percentage of older and struggling consumers. In the East Midlands, 62% of town centre have a high proportion of ecommerce users. The degree of threats and opportunities differs throughout the country. An understanding of the combination and magnitude of challenges to the economic futures of local communities is vital to their ability to thrive in the future. With that knowledge, towns will be able to give consumers what they want – value, service, experience, choice and a better use of technology.”

For communities with high levels of ecommerce, an emphasis might be put on bridging the gap between on- and off-line retailing and embracing technology. Other useful approaches might include catering to older people through improved services and facilities, improving safety and accessibility, creating a community focus and sustainability, encouraging markets and events, fostering local businesses and entrepreneurs, marketing “uniqueness” and basically giving people what they want are the keys to success.

Martin Blackwell, chief executive of the ATCM, said: “This report really lays down the roadmap for what towns and cities need to do. Experian has studied 1,200 UK towns and cities as part of this analysis. It underpins not just what our association is all about, but also provides analytical direction to what the Mary Portas report recommends for the future of town centres and high streets.”

In her recent report, leading retail adviser Mary Portas said that town centres must be run like businesses, conditions to help businesses flourish must be fostered, landlords’ roles and responsibilities must be better defined and local communities must be encouraged to play their part.

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