Christmas figures prove high streets need to find new ways to improve performance, says Future High Street Summit

Local authorities and town centre managers are being urged to consider new ways to bring trade to town centres, as figures from the Christmas shopping period and the last year as a whole indicate consumer trends are changing drastically – to the detriment of local high street shops.

Organisers of the Future High Street Summit, which will be held on 25th and 26th March in Nottingham, believe that with the unyielding rise in online sales and the continuing trends in footfall, the UK’s towns need to look at what they can offer to entice shoppers back to the high streets.

Voice of e-retail, IMRG, reported that online shopping grew a further 14 per cent in 2014, and sales passed the £100 billion landmark for the first time. Christmas alone saw a 13 per cent rise. Although this is great news for online retailers, physical shops are starting to feel the burden – as IMRG noted, £1 in £4 is now spent online and the remaining £3 is likely to involve some sort of digital interaction.

“The British Retail Consortium (BRC) found that December saw the slowest growth in sales since 2008,” explained Clare Rayner, founder of the High Street Summit. “Retail sales like-for-like were 0.4 per cent, although there was a small 1 per cent rise in total sales over December 2013. Although it’s been described as ‘flat but respectable’, it’s still enough to make high streets and retailers sit up and take notice.”

This change in shopping habits was reflected by footfall data across the Christmas shopping period. Retail insight provider, Springboard, revealed that Boxing Day morning suffered a 10.52 per cent drop in footfall across all retail formats, whilst high streets experienced a devastating 21.7 per cent fall in the first shopping hour.

Further reports from Springboard indicate that year-round footfall is continuing to drop, with December 0.7 per cent down on the previous year; the three-month average is now at a 1.3 per cent decline. Worryingly for local authorities and town centre managers, the same report stated that, unlike high streets and shopping centres, out-of-town has experienced positive footfall growth for every month in 2014.

The decrease becomes even more important when the rise of Click & Collect services are taken into account. Even though people buy online and visit shops to pick up their purchases, footfall is still dipping – indicating that it’s not just online shopping affecting our high streets.

It’s an issue that those behind the Future High Street Summit are all too aware of, and they have arranged a dedicated session on day one of the event, featuring leading industry bodies, to analyse current trends and address how regeneration leaders can address this rapidly changing landscape.

Speakers include James Roper, chairman and founder of IMRG; Diane Wehrle, marketing & insights director for Springboard; and Zifa Sadriyeva, founder of Zeta Economics.

Roper commented: “High streets will increasingly rely on digital resources – i.e. their online presence, Wi-Fi and mobile communications – to link and leverage their assets, in order to remain relevant and viable. However, ‘Digital’ remains a foreign land to many town centre stakeholders. To fix this problem, IMRG and many other organisations are working together towards an inclusive national strategy and resource centre for digital high street communities.”

Rayner added: “Towns need to understand the statistics and trends to analyse where they ‘sit’ alongside similar towns. They need to benchmark their performance in order to measure the effectiveness of their activities.

“The trends are clear: consumer habits are changing, and it’s the responsibility of the curators of our town centres to help local businesses and service providers respond to that, so that, as a collective, they can support the transformation of their high streets, ensuring they are thriving and relevant to the new consumer demands.”

The Future High Street will be held at Nottingham Conference Centre within Nottingham Trent University on 25th and 26th March.

Tickets for the conference are on sale now and attendees can sign up at