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Looking forward to the long weekend? Maybe not if you’re a high street retailer…

 

Posted At: 22 May 2014 12:47 PM
Related Categories: Retail

 

It’s not been too long since our last bank holiday and data from Springboard has shown that footfall in retail parks increased by 3.6% over the May Day weekend; is this a sign of things to come for this next long weekend?

The data also show that high street footfall was down 0.8% compared to 2013’s May Day bank holiday, with shopping centres also seeing a decrease of 0.2%. So what is behind this apparent surge in interest in retail parks when people have an extra day off to dedicate to shopping?

Bank holidays have traditionally been a time for DIY, and thanks to the government’s HelptoBuy scheme, more first time buyers will be investing in paintbrushes and gardening tools. The announcement that the scheme is due to be extended until 2020 has also given hope to many more potential home buyers across the country, particularly in the South-East and London, where home prices have seen the steepest increase. This optimism could have helped to drive the increase in retail park footfall over the bank holiday weekend as recent and potential home-makers browsed for and purchased household products.

But what else is driving the popularity of retail parks?

Is it what the retail parks themselves are offering shoppers? Or rather, is it what the shopping centres and high streets are not offering? Both were hit hard during the recession and have suffered slow growth since the economic downturn, exasperated by the rising popularity of online shopping - especially as the digital generation are reaching the life stages of working, earning and spending. In this context, the often more vibrant and modern atmospheres of retail parks is more of an attraction than the older town centres, especially those who are experiencing high vacancy rates.

In contrast, many retail parks offer a clear experience for shoppers, giving them a reason to visit the bricks-and-mortar stores. Free parking, a range of food and beverage offerings and leisure facilities, such as cinemas or bowling, all help position retail parks as ‘places to visit’, focusing on the wider customer experience. Added to that, large department, warehouse-style stores which offer a wider range of fashion, as well as home and household products, than you would find in a regular sized high-street unit, provide shoppers with a variety of choice which, research suggests, is what consumers want to see in a physical store. This emphasis on ‘experience’ is something evident in the popularity and success of outlet centres, where we are also increasingly seeing links with tourist attractions and sight-seeing - adding another motivation for shoppers to visit.

We will be watching with interest this bank holiday, to see how retail fares in terms of footfall. Certainly if the weather isn’t as nice this time, we expect footfall to be slower across the board as shoppers stick to their laptops and tablets rather than venture out into the rain.

As for the more general trends in terms of retail parks, shopping centres and high streets – we think that the message for all of them is clear. Customer experience needs to be a fundamental consideration when creating a retail mix. The statistics do not mean the death of the town centre, but rather should act as a focus for learning. High streets and shopping centres can learn from out-of-town parks and outlet centres, in order to maximise their own potential and move forwards into a multi-channel, in-and-out of town future.
 

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The opinions expressed herein are the personal opinion of the author and are not intended as statements of fact and do not represent the view of SnapShop or Pragma in any way.

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