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On drifting away

August 23, 2011

Today I was reading the British Retail Consortium’s latest High Street report

The choice of language in the title – “shops vacant as customers drift away” – really stuck me.

Drift away?

That’s a very descriptive way to put it, and one that feels very right as well.

There’s no flocking, or deserting.  No overt decision to do things differently, to move completely online, no concerted move to boycott the high street.  These figures were calculated pre-riots so it’s not fear, or shops being shut.

While retail sales are up 0.2% (something that the BBC reports as true, albeit slow, growth) this is purely the result of inflation being so high; people are actually buying less, it’s just costing them more.

While people aren’t going to out-of-town complexes (petrol prices?) they are slightly more inclined to go to shopping centres.

Incidentally, what does the BRC classify as a shopping centre – I’m assuming city centre ‘malls’, but wish they had a ‘definitions’ section on the site.

The really interesting bit is the fact that they can now look at figures – footfall and vacancies – by region rather than just the big picture.

So things look pretty grim for the regions – Wales has suffered not only the highest drop in footfall but is also pretty bad in terms of shop vacancies.  And Yorkshire is pretty bad in terms of vacancy rates.

Where does the onus lie to try and increase city centre footfall.  The shopping centres I get – they have companies dedicated to help them attract shoppers and manage their comms – but where does responsibility lie for the high street itself? The council? The shops? Or is it reliant on halo effect.

I know that Mary Portas is meant to be helping the government out with this.  But with the news that in the same week that she is presented with masses of research  from other retailers she is setting up her own shop  it maybe feels a little like she is helping herself?

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