The Future of City Centres

Much of Europe is now emerging from recession which is good news for retailers but there is still a rocky road ahead.  Life for retailers changed forever with the arrival of ecommerce. Online sales continue to grow and so it is only retailers who embrace this new world who will survive.  Big questions are being asked about the future of retail and many of these surround the nature of our city centres and high streets.

Of course the nature of our high streets began to change with the arrival of the big out of town malls. It looked like European cities would be moving closer to the American model where there are no city centres as we know them in Europe. There is now much debate on this subject and a general sense that somehow our city centres must be saved. The question is how can that be achieved? What should our city centres look like in the future?


From Citadels to Malls

The nature of our European cities has actually been changing for centuries and the tendency has been towards decentralisation. In ancient times most cities were surrounded by walls. Eventually those walls began to come down and the arrival of the industrial age saw urban areas expand outwards. The largest cities expanded to the extent that they encompassed many distinct districts, each with a hub or high street. This is where people went to shop but then the out of town retail centres started to appear and the convenience of free parking and indoor shopping with everything under one roof drew more and more people away from the city centres.

The high streets were running into trouble and then when people started to shop online many retailers started to close their doors.  The future of retail is a serious issue because the industry accounts for 15% of jobs in Europe. Add to that the number of people employed in roles related to tourism in our cities and it the situation looks even more critical. Politicians and economist are worried and there is now much debate on this issue.

The Debate

A recent event hosted by The Parliament Magazine highlighted the issue. They organised a roundtable discussion centred on the future of city centres and retailing. Several experts spoke on the subject and the general consensus was that city centres must be saved and that this can only happen if retailers embrace new business models and new technology. Retailers can no longer merely embrace multi-channel retailing they will have to accept omni-channel retailing.

Retailers have already had to adapt their systems to cope with selling both in store and online. EPoS tills and software have enabled even independent to do that. However, consumers now favour convenience and choice over everything else. They want to be able to see and feel the goods but perhaps then to purchase online. They want the facility to click and collect and they want next day of even same day deliveries. In short they want everything! Retailers will need a bricks and mortar presence but they will also have to be technologically advanced and become experts in logistics.

Those who can be all things to all people will not only survive, they will be the salvation of our city centres. We will still have shops to visit but perhaps only to check out the goods before we order from home and then have our purchases delivered.  The bricks and mortar shops will be further supported by online purchases from those who do not feel the need to visit. Times are changing rapidly and only those who move with them will thrive.

Article By Sally Stacey