Don’t panic! The #highstreet is NOT dying!

Yesterday morning, the retail industry woke up to more scaremongering headlines that serve only to feed public pessimism over the high street. I was called up to discuss the matter on Sky News, primarily because I felt more than able to counter the view that stats like this mark the “death of the high street”. The problem is that most people don’t really take the time to understand what exactly these figures mean. Looking at the statistics in detail, it’s simply not as clear-cut as the media, or rather the data source (who garner a huge amount of media coverage by publishing these stats), would have us believe.

UK high street vacancy rates have reportedly reached a 4-year low…

Less than a month ago, the Local Data Company reported a positive improvement in UK high street vacancy rates – a drop after four bad years. This was covered in several press features and something of a high street revival was declared.

Yesterday, the same company used the “death of the high street” as a headline-grabbing statement.

But let’s dig deeper. LDC says that a net of 16 shops closed per day across the UK’s 500 largest towns. If you pull this apart, it comes to just under one shop per month per town, in the same period that phones4u and La Senza entered administration. However, if you read a different stat, c. 950 stores closed in the first nine months of this year (in the largest 500 towns) – this means only 2 stores per town in a whole 9 months – so which stat do we believe?

Either way, the largest towns have hundreds of shops…so really, it means a less than 1% rise in vacancy rates in the UK’s biggest towns. Not really the death of the high street then, is it?

But then, what’s this? The data isn’t representative of the whole market view! We’re only looking at net loss of chain stores…. Apparently, on this coming Monday, we can look forward to MORE headlines revealing why UK vacancy rates are stable thanks to… new independent retail openings!

The truth is that, thanks to indies setting up shop, the whole industry is actually steady, while statistics like these are twisted to make a big impact on headlines.

To the media, it’s not worth mentioning that indie retail openings actually offset chain store closures and stabilise vacancy rates – which in truth are at their lowest in almost half a decade.

These statistics only indicate the death of the clone town… and the evolution of the high street.

Personally, I believe that using statistics in a negative light in order to make great headlines is irresponsible.

Harming consumer perceptions and investor confidence is not helpful. Monday’s figures will show high streets are sustained, in fact transformed, by the more entrepreneurial indie retailers. LDC know this, but chose to split the figures into two separate announcements – clearly to make a bigger PR impact and get more column inches.

Shops close for many reasons: refits, retirement, change of use, business issues, lease expiry… and more. I’d say if we’re getting our knickers in a twist over stats that show ONLY chain stores closing at a rate of 1 per town per month (at most), during a time when people are reportedly tired of “clone town Britain”, this must be the natural transition from old to new, in response to the changing needs and wants of the consumer.

Reflecting on the details, on the reality that the average UK high street vacancy rates are at a four-year low, and that this is due to the increasing numbers of independent businesses, I would say we should celebrate – celebrate the death of the clone town and the emergence of a NEW model; one that is relevant, appropriate and tailored to the needs and wants of the local community which it is there to serve.

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About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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