Shoppers check out choice

The number of shopping journeys to out of town retail parks has fallen since 1993 while regular use of the nearest high street has increased, according to a new report by Mintel.

In “Consumer Shopping Habits” 1,026 people were asked how and where they shop, and the results compared to a similar survey in both 1993 and 1995. High streets or shopping parades are the most widely used shopping locations, with only a small number of shoppers claiming never to visit them. The high response rates given for all types of location suggest that consumers are willing to use a broad range of shopping locations.

In terms of socio-economic groups, older, more affluent consumers have an above average tendency to shop regularly at local parades, more so than those in less affluent sub-groups. These findings should not be taken to mean that those in the most affluent sub-groups do not like to travel to more distant locations. In fact, those in the AB groups also have above average tendencies to use both out of town retail parks as well as regional shopping centres.

Taking a closer look at shopping locally, the research found that nine out of ten adults shop at local parades at some time, but only 40 per cent do so regularly, suggesting that retailers in these locations are attracting a relatively small proportion of available expenditure.

Use of local parades by those in the ABCl groups is high enough to suggest that retailers in these locations have an excellent platform on which to build their businesses. While this may require more precise targeting in terms of range and service than is currently the case, the fact that footfall through local parades already exists is the significant and encouraging aspect of the research.

In questioning what encourages local shopping, better choice of shops was the highest rated factor – although less important than in 1995. However, of particular significance was the fact that respondents in the 1997 survey had a greater desire to see more big name shops in their local high streets than respondents questioned in 1995.

The practicalities of big name retailers operating smaller stores in locations with relatively small catchments does not seem particularly workable. But small format stores, perhaps carrying core ranges, would seem to be a desired addition to local shops.

Research indicates that retailers in smaller towns cannot complain of a lack of “footfall”. The strong correlation between affluence and local shopping is there to be exploited. The fact that these same shoppers also shop elsewhere is indicative of the fact that their needs are not being met. The lack of choice of retailers, rather than any lack of facilities offered by high streets is the main perceived weakness. It provides an opportunity for town centre managers to act as a conduit between potential traders and landlords anxious to let property in these locations. Adding variety and interest, as well as adding big name retailer pulling power, provides town centre managers with a lobbying role both to attract major retailers to their towns as well as convincing landlords that retail entrepreneurs are worth supporting in the early stages.

But the pattern of use for retail parks is very much geared to a small number of regular and “sometimes use” shoppers, and a much higher proportion of occasional users. This reflects the infrequency of purchase of the types of goods sold at retail parks. The allure of retail parks is their convenience, with over half the sample citing ease of parking as a key attraction.

Attributes such as wider ranges also feature in responses which indicates that in-town retailers are losing appeal on the basis of what they sell as well as the inconvenience of their locations. Relatively few retail parks have received planning permission that would allow clothing and some other types of retailers to locate out of town. For their part most retailers in these categories have not wanted to locate out of town, although the Fosse Park and Port Dunlop retail park in the suburbs of Leicester and Birmingham, respectively, are exceptions.

A degree of crossover exists on the edge of town sites between retail and trade outlets. Specialist outlets cross the boundary between retail and trade suppliers covering products such as car parts, electrical accessories and building supplies. These outlets have an opportunity to increase sales by appealing to a mainly male market but may need to demystify their products to attract all but the experienced amateur.

The difficulty facing local retailers is that they attract shoppers from the highest spending subgroups, but these shoppers have the widest repertoires of locations at which to shop.

In the wider context of all shopping locations, the competition for share of expenditure from high spenders is greater than ever before. This will inevitably increase in the future as more regional shopping centres open and the use of alternative distribution channels expands.

The development of what might be called non-traditional sources of shopping over the past ten years has been characterised by the growth in numbers of factory outlet villages, cross-Channel shopping and shopping via direct response and the Internet. Factory shops were shown to be the types of outlets that had grown fastest in popularity in the period between 1996 and 1997.

Direct response commands a broad base of users, but shopping via the Internet is used by a very small proportion. It is still early days for Internet shopping. But there is no evidence of a surge in interest among reluctant male shoppers, who have an interest in computing, which would suggest a perfect match for home shopping.

The use of these alternative sources of shopping must be put into context. The data shows use of traditional locations such as high streets has not decreased, so it must be assumed that shopping location repertoires have widened.

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