Imagine if you will, the set of an old western movie. Deserted streets with tumbleweeds blowing about. Is this the fate of the U.K high street? We regularly see programs on television or read newspaper articles featuring residents complaining about what a disgrace their town centres have become. According to the study by PwC and the Local Data Company, town centres saw 964 net closures between January and September, two- and-a-half times the net reduction for the whole of 2013. In total 365 traditional goods retailers, such as shoe and clothes shops, closed down in the first half of the year. A major contributing factor of course is the massive increase in online shopping, but there are still consumers out there who prefer the “bricks and mortar” experience. So what can we do to get people back on the high street? Business owners need to focus on the customer experience. People who choose to go to a shop instead of shopping online, are looking for an experience. They want to touch and feel a product, smell a new fragrance or try on an article of clothing. They like interacting with the shop assistants and getting advice. If shop owners can consistently exceed customer expectations, they can achieve very high rates of customer retention and referral business. Retailers also need to work with local councils on new approaches to community engagement, dealing with parking issues to encourage consumers to stay in town longer and encourage entrepreneurs to open more shops, through temporary rate reductions. And what about the responsibility of the consumer? People don't like losing shops and services in small towns but often don't make the connection when they are spending their money. They go to big shopping centres and buy their food in chain stores. Small shops will only survive if customers spend locally. To create vibrant town centres, where people can socialise as well as shop, people need to shop locally.
It’s all well and good shopping on “Small Business Saturday” on the run up to Christmas, but it is not enough. Around 14 million jobs are supported by small businesses in the U.K., and research shows the positive impact of the “multiplier effect”on the economy when we shop local. The bottom line is, if we want busy, vibrant town centres across the U.K. It is everyone’s responsibility.