High Streets need managing says Deloitte partner Thakrar
MULTIPLE retailers will have to slash the number of their nationwide stores if they are to survive, according to a retail expert from international accountants Deloitte.
Vijay Thakrar says the cut will reflect not only the impact of the double dip recession on Britain's high streets and retail parks but also that more consumers are shopping online.
Going shopping is now a leisure activity, said Mr Thakrar, and this is reflected in Capital Shopping Centres' thinking for Nottingham's Broadmarsh Centre refurbishment, which might include cinemas.
Mr Thakrar said shopping was increasingly becoming part of a family's day out which included other activities such as taking in a film.
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"It can be out of town, like America, or on the high street," he said.
The pattern was becoming clearer as retailers increasingly fought for customers and their money.
While firms like Comet and JJB called in administrators, department store group John Lewis were doing well given the state of the economy.
"They continue to have growth year on year," he said.
"The product offer is right, the pricing is right.
"However, where the product offer isn't right or it is a very competitive environment, then there will be casualties."
Mr Thakrar said the high street was over shopped and shoppers were much more demanding.
"Money is in short supply so people want the right product at the right price in an environment they enjoy shopping in. That makes it very competitive.
"Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the future. People will need fewer stores but they will make that up by shopping online.
"The VAT increase of two years ago is out of the way. A lot of tax increases have filtered through the system.
"This means there is more consumer spending power in the economy but households are very cautious, discerning and only spend where they want to.
"People are paying off debt, saving or just being cautious.
"But there is definitely more money about subject to energy and fuel prices which can take money out of people's pockets very easily."
Mr Thakrar said that smaller towns might return to boutique shops and leisure uses as big retail names concentrated on cities.
"Independents struggle in city centres because of high rents and rates," he said.
How to get independents into city centres to add interest to the high street was a challenge, he added.
Mr Thakrar said it was worthwhile for landlords to look at offering preferential terms for three to five years to independents trying to open on the high street.
Landlords may have shareholders to answer to but local authorities did not.
He added: "If we, the public, want these independent retailers, should they have a different regime for rates to get them established? That would attract people back."
Car parking charges have proved a difficult issue for traders in Nottingham.
The city council pushed up charges in the evening and later backtracked.
"Car parking regimes and access to city centres has to be friendlier, allowing consumers in and out more easily.
"It can cost as much to park as it does to take a family out for a meal, so people look at going out of town."
He urged local authorities to look at helping retailers by giving free parking on specific times and days of the week.
But this had to be balanced against a wish to reduce pollution by introducing more park and ride.
"City centres need managing like shopping centres and retailers should be involved," he said.