Driving UK high street recovery through consumer-based research
- Our experts are developing evidence-based strategies to boost the resurgence in town centres
Loughborough University research into town centre consumer perceptions and behaviour has changed the awareness, attitudes and approaches of industry bodies, policymakers and retailers with regard to driving evidence-based strategies for town centre recovery.
Town centres perform a vital social and economic role in local communities, yet increasing competition, including online sales, has driven shop vacancies to an all-time high of 14.5%.
While much research concentrates on consumers’ responses at the individual store or shopping mall, studies conducted by Cathy Hart and Grazyna Stachow addressed the neglected area of consumers’ image of a town centre as a whole in order to understand customer perceptions of the High Street.
Funded by Skillsmart, the Retail Sector Skills Council and the Learning and Skills Council, the team surveyed consumers and retail employers across the East Midlands to identify key influences of consumer perceptions of shopping destinations.
They found that additional sensory and experiential variables, such as atmosphere, personnel and consumers’ enjoyment of shopping, were major influencers of re-patronage for town centres.
The findings delivered new insights into consumer decision making for town centres.
The overall importance of this research is that it facilitates more accurate, consumer-led measurements than the researcher-led measures that currently prevail.
Recognising the research’s relevance, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) invited Hart to bid for funds through a co-investment pilot project (2012-2013) and subsequently awarded Hart a further £100,000 in follow-on funds to continue ‘investigating the customer experience of the town centre’.
The research has informed evidence-based strategic decisions for revitalising UK town centres by changing the awareness, attitudes and approaches of industry bodies, local town centre partnerships and retailers.
Key trade reports
The research has been cited in several trade reports, notably by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) for their report “21st Century High Streets: A new vision for our town centres”, and by the Association of Town and City Management (ATCM) in a report commissioned by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
Portas pilot town bid
Hart acted as an advisor on the Loughborough Town Centre BID Partnership’s application to become a ‘Portas Pilot Town’, which was successful
National advisory role
In July 2013, the Association of Town and City Management (ACTM) invited Hart to join the Advisory Group of its Thought Leadership and Research Programme, which informs the strategic direction of programmes and advises on specific town centre research proposals.