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Hart et al 2014 ESRC Town Centre Customer Experience.pdf (1.69 MB)

The customer experience of town centres

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posted on 2018-04-19, 11:17 authored by Cathryn HartCathryn Hart, Grazyna B. Stachow, Mohammed Rafiq, Angus Laing
The UK’s shoppers have not yet deserted their local High Street. But once consumers no longer achieve what they want in town centre visits, its oft-predicted death is liable to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The High Street is likely to survive only for as long as consumers enjoy the town centre customer experience. This is the stark message that emerges from our research. The growth of out-of-town stores, the convenience of supermarkets and the rise of online retailing have not yet delivered a fatal blow to the town centre, but the window of opportunity to ensure that most people still continue to shop in the heart of their own communities is becoming smaller. By tracking shoppers over a period of time, thus producing a uniquely detailed picture of consumer behaviour, we have shown that the town centre is still the UK’s favourite shopping destination. In other words, despite mounting competition, the High Street retains our patronage. This in itself is hugely significant, but it is no cue for complacency – quite the opposite. It is a cue for action. The fact remains that the town centre is only just ahead of the supermarkets as the closest competitor, while online retailing, although attracting fewer visits, already generates more spending. The competition is intensifying and it will only increase with advances in mobile technology. Crucially, our study provides a comprehensive analysis of how and why consumers use the town centre. For the first time we have been able to break down the consumer “journey” to identify town centre “touch points”; the key moments of interaction with the retail environment, to develop a much more precise and nuanced understanding of what makes people come back, what compels them to go elsewhere, what they value and what they dislike. This unprecedented insight into the customer experience, drawn from both quantitative and qualitative data, highlights the enormous challenges and opportunities that now confront town centres. Perhaps most importantly, it offers empirical proof that it is the town centre customer experience, above all, that translates into greater consumer spend. Consequently, we argue that it is by developing the fullest possible understanding of the customer experience and using it to attract customers to visit and return, that our town centres are most likely to survive. Ultimately, although they may be acutely aware of its failings, UK consumers still want their town centres to work. This study explains how and why the customer experience is key to granting them their wish. We hope our findings and recommendations will help to make the necessary transformation possible.


The project team wishes to thank the Economic and Social Research Council and our project partners, Action for Market Towns, Argos, the Association of Convenience Stores, Boots UK, the British Retail Consortium and the Loughborough BID Partnership, for collectively funding and supporting this research.



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HART, C.A. ...et al., 2014. The customer experience of town centres. Loughborough: Loughborough University.


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