The recent insolvency of Wilko serves as another reminder of the continuing struggles of town centres. The Administrators were able to sell the brand and secured a new tenant for a large number of sites, albeit sadly as a result 12,500 people lost their jobs and we will see more large empty spaces in town centres, especially following the recent demises of the likes of Debenhams and TopShop.

I won’t rehearse the headwinds facing retailers and town centres in general, which are already well documented. In order to protect these spaces, there are several initiatives that could keep them relative to today’s consumer:

  • Embracing e-commerce:

The growth of e-commerce has undoubtedly posed a significant challenge to traditional town centre retail. Retailers need to leverage technology to bridge the gap between online and bricks and mortar. Many have adopted omnichannel strategies, integrating the online channel into the physical store for consumer ease, and also increasing footfall.

  • New technologies:

It is important retailers embrace new technologies to keep the customer experience fresh. Retailers such as Nike are utilising augmented and virtual reality in their stores to allow customers to scan items to view information, and also access further information regarding the supply chain and how certain products are made, which is important to a consumer base who are becoming ever more ethically focussed.

  • Sustainability and localism:

Consumers are increasingly valuing environmentally friendly products and supporting local, non-chain businesses. The current large store / high rent model in relation to the town centre space acts as a barrier to entry for many of these businesses. Local authorities and landlords will need to consider this in the context of the under-utilised space and void units.

  • Pop up shops and community events:

Town centres are increasingly becoming venues for pop up shops and community events. These activities draw foot fall an create a vibrant atmosphere that encourages people to spend time and money in town centres. Often regulation and red tape and regulations can act as a barrier to these events, and this will need to be considered by local authorities and government in the context of attempts to revitalise these spaces.

While town centre retail has faced challenges, it would be premature to declare its demise. As with any restructuring, a successful outcome will be dependent on the various stakeholders pulling in the same direction to create an environment where these spaces can flourish again.