Town Centres Research Interest Group (TC-RIG)
Leader: Dr Cathy Hart, Senior Lecturer in Retailing and Operations Management
The Customer Experience of Town Centres report presents the detailed findings from an ESRC-funded project investigating town centre consumer behaviour. Download the report online.
Town centres perform a vital socio-economic role in local communities; however, they also face ongoing challenges of increasing online competition, reduced consumer spending and empty shops. Many town centres have experienced economic decline, and the Government prioritised the need for action by backing measures from the Portas Pilots to the Future High Streets Forum.
The retail landscape is changing, and the composition of the high street has shifted. Increasingly, the town centre serves not only social, utilitarian or hedonic shopping purposes, but also supports out-of-hours entertainment and leisure services. The way that consumers perceive and use town centres has also fundamentally changed. The Internet offers greater choice, comparison and convenience, and as a result, consumers will expect more of their local high street.
While the plight of town centres has attracted high-profile attention, surprisingly little research focuses on town centre consumer behaviour and perceptions. The Town Centres Research Interest Group aims to generate and disseminate empirical evidence that will help practitioners as well as academics to understand the different drivers of current and future town centre behaviour. This knowledge will inform strategies to strengthen the town centre offer aimed at increasing consumer patronage and will include, amongst other themes:
- Enhancing the customer experience of town centres
- Evaluating consumer interactions or touch-points in town centres
- Tracking town centre consumer behaviour
- Measuring the town centre customer experience
- Cathy Hart – Senior Lecturer
- Fiona Ellis-Chadwick – Senior Lecturer
- Iftakar Haji – Research Associate
- Lara Stocchi, Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
- Mohammed Rafiq, Professor, Roehampton University
Hart, C.A., (2015) Additional contributor to Wrigley, N and Lambiri, D ‘British High Streets: From Crisis to Recovery? A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence’. University of Southampton / ESRC. (download from http://thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk/pdf/GBHS-British-High-Streets-Crisis-to-Recovery.pdf)
Hart, C.A., and Laing, A. (2014) “The consumer journey through the high street in the digital era”, in Wrigley, N and Brookes, E (eds) 2014. 'Evolving high streets: Resilience and reinvention - perspectives from social science'. ESRC/ Univ of Southampton, ISBN. 9780854329809, 52 pp. (download from http://www.riben.org.uk/Cluster_publications_&_media/)
Hart, C.A., Stachow, G.B., Rafiq, M. and Laing, A. (2014) “The customer experience of town centres”. ESRC Project Report, January.
Hart, C.A., Stachow, G.B., and Cadogan, J.W. (2013), “Conceptualising town centre image and the customer experience”, Journal of Marketing Management, Vol. 29, 15-16, 1753-1781.
Stachow, G.B. and Hart, C.A. (2010) “Exploring place image: Formation and measurement”. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, Vol. 6, 2, 145-155.
Doherty, N.F. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2010) “Evaluating the role of electronic commerce in transforming the retail sector”, The International Review of Retail, Distribution and Consumer Research, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 375–378.
Doherty, N.F. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2010) “Internet retailing: The past, the present and the future,” International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, vol. 38, no. 11/12, pp. 943-965.
Doherty, N.F. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2009) “Exploring the drivers, scope and success of e-commerce strategies in the UK retail sector”, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 43, no. 9/10, pp. 1246 -1262.
Hart, C.A., Farrell, A.M., Stachow, G.B., Reed, G.M. and Cadogan, J.W. (2007) “Enjoyment of the Shopping Experience: Impact on Customers' Repatronage Intentions and Gender Influence”, Service Industries Journal, Vol. 27, 5, 583-604.
Hart, C.A., Stachow, G.B., Farrell, A.M., and Reed, G.M. (2007) “Employer Perceptions of Skills Gaps in Retail: Issues and Implications for UK Retailers”, International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, Vol. 35, 4, 271-288.
Hart, C.A., Haji, I. Rafiq, M. and Laing, A. (2015) “Exploring the Holistic Town Centre Journey”, European Association for Education and Research in Commercial Distribution (EAERCD) conference, University of Rennes, 3rd July 2015.
Hart, C., Rafiq, M., Stocchi, L and Laing, A. (2014) “The town centre consumer: Exploring town centre customer experience”. The European Institute of Retailing and Services Studies (EIRASS), 21st International Conference on Recent Advances in Retailing and Consumer Services Science, Bucharest, Romania, 8th July.
Hart, C., Stocchi, L., Rafiq, M and Laing, A. (2014) “The town centre customer experience: The role of functional, experiential touch points and digital technology”, Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Tampa, Florida, 9thApril.
Hart, C.A., Stachow, G.B., Rafiq, M. and Laing, A. (2013) “Exploring consumer touch points in the town centre customer experience”. European Association for Education and Research in Commercial Distribution (EAERCD) conference, University of Valencia, July 5th.
Grinko, N., Ellis-Chadwick, F. and Doherty, N.F. (2012) “Online Retailing in an Emerging Market: Russia”, the European Institute of Retailing and Services Studies, 18th International Conference on Recent Advances in Retailing and Consumer Services Science, Vienna, Austria 15th-18th July.
Shakur, M., Doherty, N.F. and Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2012). Importance-performance analysis of retail website service quality.34 In ‘Marketing: Catching the technology wave’, 2nd-5 Julyth, Southampton.
Ellis-Chadwick, F. (2011) “Internet retailing: the past, the present and the future”, Second Workshop on Internet Studies Consumers and Internet Studies: A Workshop, Barcelona, 10th January, Key Note Speaker
Ellis-Chadwick, F., Gunawan, G. and King, M. (2010) “The role of performance measurement on business performance: A Comparative study of small and medium-sized Internet retailers based in the United Kingdom and Indonesia”, The European Institute of Retailing and Services Studies (EIRASS), International Conference on Recent Advances in Retailing and Consumer Services Science, Istanbul, Turkey 2nd-5th July.
Hart, C.A. and Stachow, G.B. (2009) “Exploring Place Image: Formation and measurement”, 1st International Colloquium on Place Marketing and Branding, Brunel University.
Stachow, G.B., Hart, C.A. and Rafiq, M. (2009), “Retail Image of Town Centres as a Consumer Construct”, AMS World Marketing Congress 1st Doctoral Consortium, Oslo School of Management.
Stachow, G.B., Hart, C.A. and Rafiq, M. (2009), “The Image of a Town Centre”, 15th EAERCD Conference, University of Surrey.
Seminars and events
18th June 2015: “The Town Centre Consumer: Impact and Implications for the Future of the High Street”, Town Centres Research Interest Group launch event, Loughborough University.
The Town Centres Research Interest Group held a seminar event to discuss emerging research on the town centre consumer. Bringing together industry speakers and showcasing the latest research findings, Cathy Hart led a series of nine presentations focusing on the evolving high street environment and its impact on consumer behaviour. The audience’s questions and presenter responses generated some interesting discussions, and the event closed with Bruce Jackson, Senior Knowledge Exchange Manager ESRC, identifying opportunities for future research directions.
Invited presentations (ESRC project dissemination)
- 30th June 2015 – “The customer experience in an evolving high street”, Plenary presentation, The Charity Retail Conference, Keele University.
- 5th May 2015 – “Researching the customer experience of town centres”, Local Data Company / ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre ‘Thought Leadership Event’ at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
- 30th September 2014 – “Town Centre Customer Experience (TCCE) Measurement: An overview of research findings”. Love Loughborough Town Centre Partnership, Leicestershire
- 3rd July 2014 – “Town centre consumers: How people shop”. South Lakeland High Street Event, Kendal
- 21st May 2014 – “The town centre consumer”. Specsavers Shared Venture Annual Partner Seminar, Crewe Hall, Cheshire
- 3rd April 2014 – “Transforming consumer perceptions – insights from town centre research”. Centre for Service Management (CSM) Launch Event, Loughborough University
- 19th February 2014 – “Town centre consumer research: How consumers use town centres”, Pecha Kucha presentation for TADA Student Society, Loughborough Students Union
- 21st March 2014 - “Consumer research findings: Satisfaction, attitudes, touch points and barriers”. Conference; ‘Everybody shops: Evolving the retail experience in a changing society’. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London
- 7th November 2013 – “Towns Alive 2013”, Action for Market Towns (AMT) National Convention, Cheshire
- 6th November 2013 – “Delivering Quality”, British BIDS Annual conference, London
- 14th August 2013 – ATCM Support Workshop, Loughborough BID Strategy Group
- 9th July 2013 – LoveLoughboroughTown Centre Partnership
- 4th July 2013 – Association of Town and City Management (ATCM), Summer School, Lincoln
- 13th May 2013 – Digital High Street 2013. “Opening view from towns: The confusion and uncertainty facing the high street”. (Findings presented by project partner Chris Wade, CEO, AMT) Halifax
- 9th May 2013 – The 18th Annual Quality Streetscapes Conference, “Town Centre Opportunities: Unlocking the potential of property and public space”. London
- 17th April 2013 – Town Centre Customer Experience Seminar, British Retail Consortium, London
- 25th March 2013 – Alliance Boots Regional Community Event, Leicester
- 12th March 2013 – “Retail and the research base cross council workshop”, Department for Business Innovation and Skills, London
- 2012 “The image of a town centre”, PhD Thesis, Dr Grazyna Stachow.
The second phase of ESRC-funded research focused on validating the town centre customer experience exploratory findings and developing a town centre consumer measurement tool and customer experience ‘Index’. A key objective was to examine the town centre touch points or memorable interactions, and how these shape future patronage behaviour at the local town centre level.
In 2014, a larger-scale consumer survey was developed to capture the customer experiences of over 1,500 respondents across 10 UK town centres (Carlisle, Huddersfield, Sunderland, Worcester, Loughborough, Huntingdon, Coventry, Bath, Reading and Watford). The consumer responses were analysed to create a robust town centre customer experience measurement framework.
A customer experience Index has been created to benchmark town centre performance and specifically the ‘Experiential’ and ‘Functional’ touch points, in order to identify consumer perceived strengths and areas for improvement in each town centre.
The Town Centre Consumer Tool - Enterprise Project Group funding
The current stage of this project led by Cathy Hart (PI) and Lara Stocchi (Co-I) is aimed at creating a practical tool that will capture, measure and track consumer perceptions reliably on a large scale. This tool will:
- Enable town centre management and local authorities to monitor and understand changes in customer behaviour and satisfaction over time;
- Inform town centre management where and how to improve the quality of customer interaction with town centre touch points;
- Support consumer-driven responses and strategies to improve the customer experience, increasing footfall, loyalty and spend on the high street.
You may download a PDF of the preliminary research findings by clicking on the following link:
The findings were presented at a University-hosted national event on 18th June 2015. You can find out more about the June 18th event in the 'Past Activities' tab under 'Seminars and events' above.
The project was funded by the Enterprise Project Group (EPG), and the future steps of this research include:
- Working with a location analytics company, Indestinate (www.indestinate.com), to incorporate the tool into a digital platform for easy administration and reporting e.g., via a mobile app and cloud-based impact dashboard reporting tool;
- Testing and validating the measurement tool via a consumer panel of 600-1000 consumers across eight sample town centres;
- Evaluating the results reported via the cloud-based dashboard platform for each town centre.