New ACS report reveals how shoppers really feel about the nation’s high streets

A new report released today by the Association of Convenience Stores has revealed how people really feel about the shops and services on their high streets, and what needs to be done to make those high streets successful again.

The ACS Community Barometer looks at what consumers, shop owners and local councilors think about the services in their local area, what they want more (or less) of, and what they believe Government and councils should be doing to give local shops on high streets the best chance to thrive.

Post Offices in, pawnbrokers out

In the report, Post Offices were seen as the standout performers by retailers, consumers and councilors alike – being considered to have the most positive impact on their local area. Other shops and services considered to have a positive impact were specialist food shops such as butchers and bakers, independent convenience stores, restaurants and banks – all important staples of high streets and village parades. However, takeaways, betting shops and pawnbrokers – all of which are perceived to have dramatically increased in number over recent years – were viewed least positively by all surveyed groups.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “These results clearly show that people want a diverse offering of financial services, retail outlets and places to eat and drink. The tendency of consumers to want more independent stores and specialist food shops shows that they want to shop in places which have a unique local atmosphere and aren’t just part of a clone town full of national chains.”

North/south divide?

When asked about whether they wanted more or less of each type of shop/service in the survey, there were clear differences between those in the north and the south. For both councilors and consumers, coffee shops, banks and convenience stores were sought after by more respondents in the north than the south, while those in the south were more keen to see fewer charity shops, pawnbrokers and betting shops than their northern counterparts.

Lowman said: “The latest Local Data Company figures show that vacancy rates are the highest in the north east (16.8%) and north west (17.3%) while being lowest in London (8.1%) and the south west (11%). Our research suggests that people in the north, faced with these higher vacancy rates, are crying out for more vital services, while in the south, people want to avoid wrong type of outlets on the high street. Throughout the country retailers, councillors and consumers agree that a diverse mix of business types is what is needed to create a sustainable local retail offer.”

Getting high streets back on track

The report reveals that among consumers, retailers and local councilors – action was needed most to reduce the burden of business rates on local shops. Unpredictable rate rises of up to 5.6% over recent years have led to several national campaigns calling for a cap of the rate at 2%, but the Government has only committed to this for one year.

Ensuring that town centre first planning policy is strengthened was also a key concern for both councilors and consumers, with 25% of the general public and 43% of councilors surveyed establishing it as a priority. Town centres continue to suffer from the development of out-of-town retail parks, with the latest figures showing that more than three quarters of retail development is located out of town.

Lowman said: “Businesses’ concerns about the future of high streets are shared by their customers. Government has made significant progress through the Portas Review and the Future High Streets Forum to improve the state of the high street across the country, but there is more to be done. We hope that this report will provide a benchmark for MP’s priorities as we draw closer to the General Election.”