Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Diversity lesson for Northern Ireland retailers

Donald C McFetridge
Donald C McFetridge

So much negative comment has been written about our high street that I find it difficult to summon up the enthusiasm to open (let alone read) the latest commentaries.

However, a new report, which revealed that people regard post offices, specialist food shops and independent convenience stores as having the most positive impact on the high street, captured my attention.

The Association of Convenience Stores' Community Barometer report examined what consumers, retailers and councillors feel about the shops and services on their high streets.

Post offices were seen as the standout performers, as they were considered to have the most positive impact on their areas.

Others considered to have a positive impact were specialist food shops, such as butchers and bakers, independent convenience stores, restaurants and banks. Takeaways, betting shops and pawnbrokers were viewed least positively.

The growing trend of consumers wanting more independent stores and specialist food shops clearly shows that they want to shop in places which have a unique local atmosphere and are not just part of a clone town full of national chains.

Sir Ralph Halpern (as chairman of the British Fashion Council) famously referred to the "terrible sameness" of the high street and many consumers point out that this is still a major concern.

It is most unlikely that we are ever going to return to the halcyon days of high street retailing as we once knew it.

But it is vitally important that we are able to distinguish Belfast from Brighton and Ballymena from Birmingham.

They should all have a distinct retail proposition to offer consumers who are increasingly becoming more willing to start spending again.

Much was made of the Queen's visit earlier this week to St George's Market.

What a shame our high streets do not offer the same retail proposition of this excellent showcase of diverse regional retail practice.

  • Donald C McFetridge is a retail analyst at the Ulster Business School, University of Ulster

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