Consumers in the West Midlands are returning to shopping in-store as their purchasing habits evolve, say a panel of experts.
Speaking at the Real Estate Network: Retail Trading Trends event in Birmingham, representatives of BDO UK, the Mailbox and Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH) discussed the return of shoppers to the high street and out of town stores in what was a landmark year for retail in the Midlands.
According to the panel, major renovations to the Mailbox and the all new Grand Central shopping centre opening in Birmingham last year exemplified the returning importance of bricks and mortar stores to consumers.
Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO UK, said: “The way that people shop continues to change at a rapid pace. While there is no doubt that online retail has become key to how consumers purchase goods, the growth of online has given the store an evolving role for the convenient collection of online orders and increasingly as a beacon of inspiration.
“This is of particular focus to those retailers where the buying process cannot be adequately reproduced online and the consumer therefore receives value from visiting the store to experience the product before buying.”
This is a trend that is supported by recent figures from the British Retail Consortium which suggest footfall at retail stores in the West Midlands is on the up.
Richard Jones, head of Midlands retail at national commercial property consultancy LSH, said: “While e-commerce is undeniably a threat to bricks and mortar stores, there is definite evidence of a fight back in the West Midlands market. Vacancy rates have fallen from 15.4% in January 2015 to 9.4% in January 2016 a decline of 6% and, at LSH, we’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in take-up regionally in the last 18 months, suggesting that confidence is really starting to grow among retailers.
“Footfall at both retail parks and on the high street is also up, with the latter seeing a rise for the first time since July 2013.”
Turning to the year ahead, the panel discussed the potential negative effects of the National Living Wage and impending ‘Brexit’ referendum, but David Pardoe, Retail Manager at the Mailbox, sees plenty of reasons to be positive.
He said: “Birmingham is now the only city outside London to boast all five major UK department stores [Debenhams, John Lewis, Harvey Nicholls, House of Fraser and Selfridges] and can now offer a true leisure experience to shoppers from miles around. And it is the quality of this experience that will see consumers returning time and again.”
The panellists also agreed that 2016 is likely to see the continued growth of social media as an important tool for retailers to engage with their customers, who in turn will focus on building loyalty to shops and brands that they trust.
The Real Estate Network hosts a yearly programme of events, alternately hosted by leading accountants BDO, LSH and law firm Shoosmiths, looking at a range of issues and trends in the Midlands commercial property market.