How important is retail to Scotland? Rapidly changing retail and the importance of closer collaboration.

"The state of our high streets and our town centres has been in the news since the onset of recession. For many the recession and the decline of retailing on the high street are causally linked. This though is overly simplistic and misses the complexity of towns and town centres and the long run structural changes that are impacting our society and economy.

Sometimes, the very welcome emphasis on the holistic town centre becomes parlayed into a view that retailing in town centres no longer matters or is not important. It does, and it is. Retailing alone will not be the saviour of towns, but ignoring its potential and actual role will diminish the chances of success in reinventing our towns. Scotland is moving in the right direction in terms of its town centres and high streets, but it requires further investment in community and place and a coordinated understanding of activities and impacts, including those in and of the retail sector. Retailers themselves have to recognise their collective abilities to make places distinctive and to bring back the sense of exploration, engagement and experience that a good, strong, diverse retail sector can bring to a town or place."  

Professor Leigh Sparks, Chair, STP

We want to hear why you think retail is important to Scotland and its town centres. The Scottish Retail Consortium, Asda, Vouch for That and SCDI have shared their views below:

Scottish Retail Consortium, David Lonsdale

The Scottish Retail Consortium is the trade association for the retail sector, we spoke to Director, David Lonsdale:

“Our town centres can be viewed as an intricate eco-system to be cherished and nurtured, with each interwoven element such as retail, leisure and cultural offerings often mutually-dependent on each other's success and vitality. Our towns are far more than simply an outlet for consumer choice, however there is little doubt that a thriving retail presence is good news for jobs, for local suppliers seeking a route to market, for tax revenues and of course as a draw for customers and visitors. Retailing in our town centres faces many hurdles, not least exorbitant property costs, but with the right environment it can continue to contribute to the unique experience that our town centres provide.” 

Asda, Kevin McBride

Kevin McBride, Asda’s Vice President for Scotland said, 

“Asda has a long history of supporting the local communities we serve. It defines the way we work and the way we do business. From our award-winning apprenticeship scheme and Community Life programme, to the innovative support we give our farmers and suppliers, we’re committed to doing the right thing for our colleagues, customers and communities. That’s because, at Asda, we recognise that with scale comes responsibility. Where our local communities need us, we want to be there.”

Vouch for That, Catharine Anderson

Catharine Anderson is Managing Director of Vouch for That Ltd, an organisation providing innovative technology for independent retailers to sell gift vouchers online and for business groups to create a 'one for all' voucher that can be used across a specific area.  She said:

"Towns and villages are the lifeblood of Scotland. It is clear that retail is changing in Scotland and across the UK. Town and village centres are becoming increasingly led by food and beverage operations and more diverse independent shops. It is so important that these businesses work together to provide an experience; making the area a "visitor attraction" so that consumers want to return again and again. Technology plays a big part in retail and smaller operations need to embrace omni-channel retailing. Groups of businesses, whether through a formal or informal arrangement, should collaborate to invest in technology that will work to the benefit of all involved. Creating a vibrant place where people want to be, with the conveniences that 21st century consumers expect, will not only drive local footfall, it will encourage businesses and offices to return to our towns which is fundamental to the success of regeneration." 

SCDI, Ross Martin

"The retail experience lies at the heart of Scotland's Towns, whether that's through young people chasing the latest fashions or the older generation looking for that special one-to-one customer experience which invigorates and re-affirms their daily lives.

The transactional, economically functional nature of retail is so often supplemented by a meaningful conversation, the embedding of a relationship, or simply a chance encounter - these are the experiences which form the glue which bonds people and place together.

Wrapped around even the most mundane retail experience are the characteristics of town centre living, the little things which make people feel at home in their local community - the catching up chats over coffee, time taken out from a busy day to grab lunch or a relaxed meal with a loved one in the evening.

In Scotland, the retail experience lies at the heart of many lives, it's part of who we are, and therefore demands nurture, support and encouragement as we transition to the emerging economy, which will itself rewrite the rule book for those transactions around which our lives are often centred."

Ross Martin, CEO, SCDI

So... How important is retail to Scotland's towns?

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Useful Links

Professor Leigh Sparks produces highly commended blogs around retail and town centre regeneration, subscribe to them here.

The latest figures of Scotland's Towns and Cities including the number of retail premises, the vacancy rates and persistent vacancy levels and the retail structure have been reported by Local Data Company and Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling.  Read the report summary here.

As part of Asda’s 50th birthday celebrations in 2015 they produced Investing in Scotland brochure to demonstrate the positive benefit that Asda delivers to the Scottish economy and communities, as well as the importance of the Scottish market to their business.  Read Investing in Scotland here. 

Scottish Retail: The Economic and Social Contribution

Scottish Retail: Infographic

Learn more about the Vouch for That model here. 

Sponsored By Supporting Scotland's Towns