Stirlingretail.com began in 2011. It was born out of a desire to provide a home for common questions about Scottish retailing and a space for me to make comments and cite some evidence and stuff, so as to save me answering the same old questions on the phone or email. I don’t think that ever worked, but it has been a valuable space (for me if no-one else) to muse/pontificate about aspects of retailing and town centres. I enjoy it and I hope at least some others do as well.
This year – 2020 – has attracted the largest audience since I started. It was not even close, c70% more traffic than the previous high point (2017). There’s no real guessing what caused it; another Covid19 impact, but what has been read does throw up some surprises (well to me at least). I think the listing of the top 8 most read posts that makes up this final post of 2020, shows the enduring interest in retailing, retail change and town centres. These have all been given an almighty nudge by Covid19 as change has accelerated, retailing has altered and our towns and retail places have been ever more challenged but perhaps ever more significant. There are some suprises though, showing perhaps the enduring fascination with our retail past.
In looking at the top read posts during the year, we can collect them under 3 headings.
Food Retailing Change
The top post has been on Grocery Market Shares in the UK 2020 (#1) my annual update on Kantar data. Last year’s equivalent (UK Grocery Market Shares 1997 – 2019) comes in at #7. Enduring interest, good search terms, ready access or student friendly? Who knows? But change is happening in this sector and we contoinue to report and be interested in it.
The Impact of Covid19
The second most popular post (#2) was by some way my longest (what should we value about retailing and towns and what should we do about them?), arguably (though I think not) the most controversial, and the one that took most writing. It was picked up by a number of other blogs and sparked some other commissioned writing. Some of the ideas are explored in/contributed to the Town Centre Action Plan Review (due out in 2021). But other specific aspects of Covid19 impact also proved popular; #3 (Commuting and retailing in town centres), #5 (Changing priorities – the end of the (retail) world as we know it); #8 (Openings and closures in 2020 – but of what?). Two of these posts are arguments against the lazy coverage and reporting of complex consumer and retail behaviours and change – something that unfortunately continued in the at times ludicrous coverage of Boxing Day consumer footfall. Such a major sector deserves better coverage (there are honorable exceptions to this over-generalisation).
Two other posts also entered my top 8 and are more of a surprise. At #4 was the post on Cooperative Tokens, Sports Direct and the Bristol Pound. This post dates from 2017 but seems enduring. Maybe it is the very odd combination in the title, or perhaps there is a revival in interest in local currencies (see the new types of gift cards). In #6 was the post on the London Welsh Dairies: The Welsh Milk Trade from 2019. Now that is a niche interest. Perhaps the link is simply retail history and a desire in these Covid19 times to reflect on our past?
So what can I make of this? 2020 has been one hell of a year and not one we could ever have anticipated. The last public meeting I went to was one we hosted early last March at the University. We had invited Helen Dickenson, the Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium to give a public lecture. Her title : Retail – Armageddon or Reinvention? It seems like another world in so many ways – My report on it is here. None of us that eveing could have predicted the scale of the challenge about to hit us, generally and specifically in retailing.
Retailing and town centres have been challenged like never before and we still have quite a way to go if current lockdowns are anything to go by. There is a real human crisis underneath the headlines; something that is too glibly forgotten by a focus on unthinking headlines regurgitating pretty pointless footfall figures and almost celebrating the latest retail “casualty”.
But there is a light approaching and we can look forward to a better 2021. People want to socialise, to meet, to go shopping and to enjoy places. We just need to ensure we create the right places for more of the population and based around the whole community. That is our reinvention task.