Large cosmopolitan cities have been the most resilient to the problems affecting the high street retail, according to a new study conducted by Verdict Research.
In a survey of 700 cities and towns which assessed affluence, vacancy rates and strength of retail, central London came out as the best performing shopping area.
Glasgow was second in the list followed by Manchester, Birmingham and then Leeds, showing that successful retail areas may be spread around the country but they are concentrated in large city areas.
Matt Piner, Senior Retail Analyst at Verdict, argues however that investment and good management are just as important to these centres’ success as their size.
“One of the key reasons for the success of a town centre is the diversity of its shops,” Piner said.
“This is why cities like Edinburgh and Norwich are in the top ten - taking seventh and ninth place - at the expense of bigger places like Liverpool (13th).
“It’s not just about size, success has been about working hard to keep vacancy rates low and keeping the retail space highly concentrated. This has encouraged footfall and brought in the big brands and multiples which in turn has increased footfall further.”
Many retailers have just announced disappointing sales during the key Christmas period, with Sainsbury’s and John Lewis notable exceptions, and the increasing popularity of online shopping seems to have hit smaller town centres hardest.
The report shows that sales growth at these smaller centres was just 0.2 per cent in last year, the smallest increase since 1999, and although town centre sales will increase by £5 billion over the next four years this is much less than the £30.6 billion growth expected across retail.
According to Verdict data, town centre retail was the only channel to lose market share in 2010, falling from 43.3 per cent to 42.7 per cent, and it is predicted to decline even further this year to 42.2 per cent.
Piner added: “Even if the economy hadn’t experienced a downturn, town centres would still be facing a challenge as they are vulnerable to e-retail and the rise of retail parks and the increasingly comprehensive offers of the supermarkets.
“It is vital that cities and towns understand how to improve footfall and boost sales because although retail in general has suffered in recent years, sales in town centres have been worst hit.
“One reason is that the downturn has meant that many premium new centres, which tend to refresh an area and give a boost to spending, have been delayed or cancelled.”