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High streets continue battle to bring trade back to town centres

Town centre managers and local authorities are being called upon to consider new ways of enticing shoppers back to the high streets by organisers of the upcoming Future High Street Summit.

The event, which offers councils, town teams and business improvement districts (BIDs) the chance to share ideas and experiences for a more prosperous future for the nation’s high streets, will give retailers the chance to combat the unyielding rise in online sales and the current trends in footfall.

Retail organisation, IMRG reports that online shopping figures rose by another 14 per cent in 2014, with sales passing the £100 billion mark for the very first time. The festive period alone proved a very profitable one for online retailers who experienced a 13 per cent rise.

IMRG adds that £1 in every £4 is now spent online, with the remaining £3 likely to involve some kind of digital interaction along the consumer buying chain.

Meanwhile, the British Retail Consortium confirmed that December saw the slowest growth in sales since 2008, with like-for-like retail sales growth at just 0.4 per cent.

A change in shopping habits was reflected in footfall data collated during the Christmas shopping season.

Retail performance analyst, Springboard revealed that while annual footfall is dropping, with December 0.7 per cent down on the previous year, the three-month average was more worrying recording a 1.3 per cent decline year-on-year.

However, town centre managers will have been more alarmed at the fact out-of-town footfall experienced positive growth for every month in 2014.

The increase in out-of-town footfall may be partly attributed to the rise of Click & Collect services.

James Roper, chairman and founder, IMRG, believes a ‘national strategy’ is required to breathe new life into the nation’s town and city centres.

“High streets will increasingly rely on digital resources, i.e. their online presence, Wi-Fi and mobile communications – to link and leverage their assets, in order to remain relevant and viable.

“However, ‘Digital’ remains a foreign land to many town centre stakeholders. To fix this problem, IMRG and many other organisations are working together towards an inclusive national strategy and resource centre for digital high street communities.”

Clare Rayner, founder, Future High Street Summit, believes local businesses, town centre managers and local authorities alike need to recognise the changing habits of consumers.

“Towns need to understand the statistics and trends to analyse where they ‘sit’ alongside similar towns,” said Rayner.

“They need to benchmark their performance in order to measure the effectiveness of their activities.

“The trends are clear: consumer habits are changing, and it’s the responsibility of the curators of our town centres to help local businesses and service providers respond to that, so that, as a collective, they can support the transformation of their high streets, ensuring they are thriving and relevant to the new consumer demands.”

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