It’s difficult to pass a week in which the headlines don’t spell the death of the high street.
Latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have revealed the number of shoppers on the high street, in retail parks and shopping centres has fallen by 10 per cent in just seven years across the UK.
UK retail sales in September are reported to have dropped with the worst sales performance since records started in the mid-1990s.
News that John Lewis is looking at a 20 per cent reduction in service charge, the recent fall of Thomas Cook and rumours circulating that House of Fraser will close stores after Christmas are continuing to put pressure on both retailers and landlords.
We are all waiting with bated breath to see whether customer confidence will boost retail sales over the Christmas period.
However, despite the doom and gloom, research has also shown that customers still want retailers to have a high street presence.
Figures from CACI show that online sales are 106 per cent higher within a store catchment. It means for every £1 spent online outside the stores’ catchment there is just over £2 spent online inside it.
It’s clear customers still want to touch and feel products, even if they then purchase online and they also want the flexibility to return goods to the store.
So, do department stores have a future? Yes, and Bristol certainly has the market for these retailers. Department stores need to be about luxury and quality.
For me, it’s about walking through brightly presented, vibrant concessions with immaculately presented sales assistants offering advice, brand knowledge and the quality of personal service that cannot be delivered online.
Cushman & Wakefield released its ‘UK Town Centres: What’s Next?’ report into retail performance and resilience earlier this year and Bristol was ranked second out of 250 UK locations, just behind Cambridge.
This is partly to do with high resilience due to a large catchment size, a large student population and high long-term employment but it is also a real compliment to the strength and diverse economy that has evolved in the city over the past 10 years.
Broadmead will change beyond recognition over the coming years, with a reduction in retail provision, an increase in the mix of uses and improvements to the urban landscape.
The recent acquisition of The Galleries Shopping Centre is part of this re-purposing process.
But what will the high street look like in the years to come?
With the threat of high vacancy rates within Bristol, and especially large department stores rumoured to be becoming vacant in the future or possibly downsizing, more landlords are looking at re-purposing retail space with a view to creating an experiential destinations for customers alongside retail space.
The idea of coming into Bristol, going to the cinema, grabbing a bite to eat and also having the convenience of being able to shop is the experience that can compete with online sales.
Despite its resilience, Bristol cannot rest on its laurels. To succeed in the future, the city, along with other town centres, will need to adapt to the needs of those living and working in its catchment area.
Failure to do this will mean centres struggle as they become less relevant to their local population needs.
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