The Future of Work in Retailing? Just Walk Out

There has been quite a lot of attention in the last few days on the Amazon Go unit in Seattle being opened to the public.  Much has focused on whether this is the end of retail work and how fast this will sweep through our food retailing.

A couple of things should be immediately stated.  Amazon Go has been in trial mode for some time now, and its public opening is somewhat later than expected.  This suggests some teething problems, which given what is being attempted, is to be expected.  Secondly, this is a small store, one shop trial.  There may be more to come (indeed, will be more), but should local stores across Scotland be worried at this point?  Hardly.  Reality and hype are a long way apart here again.

Amazon Go is a logical continuum of trends we already see.  Watching the roll-out of self-checkouts in heavily trafficked urban stores, and of cashless shopping shows the consumer demand for speed, rapidity, convenience and perhaps control.  Amazon Go takes this to another level (through its use of technology and machine learning) and integrates the product end of the retail operation to the in-store consumer experience.  For some consumers this will be perfect; for others not so.  For the retailer, the linkage and integration could be great, but there remain questions over the cost and return.  Will the increased throughput, sales (possibly) etc. and reduced labour costs outweigh the technology costs (not now necessarily, but in the future)?  It is one version of the future, but is not going to be the only one.

There were a couple of tweets around the topic which made me laugh:

Amazon goWh Smith

The absurdity of queuing to get into a store whose whole rationale is not to have queues, demonstrates perhaps our tech interested world and the fascination for all things Amazon and innovative.  Just Walk Out indeed – be nice if we could Just Walk In. As for WH Smith, well that’s just cruel, though true! Their use of self-checkouts is one that regularly drives consumers crazy. How not to do technology.

The Amazon Go story came at the same time as Tesco and Sainsbury (following Asda in December) announced job cuts in stores and especially management level reductions.  Pressured by costs and competition, these retailers are having to look at all their practices and with labour being a major cost, it is the obvious target.  Much of the change seems to be in reducing management (and full-time) staff, mainly (though not entirely) in the larger stores, reflecting the significant pressure such units are under.  Whilst some staff may get redeployed, there will be a lot of personal upset at the job losses, and lives affected.

Taken together Amazon Go and Tesco/Sainsbury point to the ever changing nature of retailing.  In the UK, the BRC Retail Employment Monitor for the fourth quarter of 2017 found that employers in the sector had 2.9% fewer staff, working for 3.9% fewer hours than they had a year earlier. There are new jobs to be had and significant skills are needed in retailing, but these are changing.  Amazon Go points the way in which some parts of retailing will be rethought – if consumers allow.  Whilst work in retailing will always be there, its nature and scale continue to evolve and there is no doubt the scale of retail work will continue to be affected by technology and competitive effects. Whether this will result in a loss of 900,000 jobs in the UK by 2025 remains to be seen, but current trends certainly point to real pressures on workers.

Posted in Amazon Go, Asda, Automation, BRC, Consumers, Contactless, Convenience stores, Employees, Employment, Food Retailing, Hypermarkets, management, Retail Change, Retailers, Sainsbury, Self-Scanning, Tesco, Urban, WH Smith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

High Streets for Consumers or High Streets for Citizens?

A little while ago I came across a new article by Julian Dobson entitled “from me towns to we towns”. I invited Julian to summarise this for this blog,  but he thought some up to date context would work better than a simple summary of the article. So what follows is Julian’s take on high streets for consumers or citizens? It poses and answers the vital question of who are our high streets/town centres/places for? And for what purpose?

Julian writes:

Early in November, Dover became the latest of Britain’s town centres where you could no longer buy a Big Mac and fries.

There was a time when the McDonaldisation of our high streets was seen as a threat. Today, local newspapers report a sense of nostalgia as customers share their McMemories of a fast food retailer that had become regarded as a cornerstone of the community.

The sense of place attachment associated with a global brand that is indistinguishable wherever you go poses questions of what we now expect of contemporary town centres. Despite the flurry of activity associated with government reviews a few years ago, the responses to such questions have not changed much.

The responses tend to fall into four broad categories. The first is to say the town centre as we used to know it is obsolete. The second is to say we shouldn’t worry, because the changing face of the high street is simply ‘adaptive resilience’.

The third is to go for big, glitzy redevelopment schemes, hoping a shiny new shopping centre will bring back the crowds. The fourth, with a range of permutations, argues that small is beautiful, and advocates local, fine-grained, independent futures for town centres, often coupled with digital innovation.

In all these narratives the user of town centre space is constructed first and foremost as a consumer. And consumers, by definition, have the means to consume. High streets that are only shopping streets are for those who can afford to be there.

But even in today’s stripped-out and struggling town centres, people do more than shop. Children and young people play and socialise. People learn, argue, laugh, watch and sit. Some of them even debate and protest.

In a new article for the journal Citizenship Studies, I argue that our town centres can be places of emergent and insurgent citizenship, where members of the public can challenge and expand the limited range of future imaginaries typically offered by planners and property developers.

I discuss three examples of such citizenship, initiatives where local people have constructed new narratives of place and space in opposition to dominant ideas of the town centre. The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Bristol, Incredible Edible Todmorden in Yorkshire, and Transition Town Totnes in Devon have all offered more inclusive and imaginative futures for their localities.

They are not the only ones. But they are interesting in that each of them offers not just an alternative vision for a place, but a different vision of who it is possible to be in that space. They are visions in which citizens actively shape the places they live in and expect to be acknowledged and respected, not simply ‘consulted’ about local futures.

Through such activity local citizens can appropriate, reframe and expand narratives of adaptation and resilience, insisting that the ‘single story’ is not the only one. As I comment in Citizenship Studies, ‘Within an activist reframing of resilience, the commercial heart of a town can become a site for experimentation in economic models that value local networks, products and distinctiveness.’


Julian Dobson (2017) From ‘me towns’ to ‘we towns’: activist citizenship in UK town centres,Citizenship Studies Vol. 21 , Iss. 8, 


Julian Dobson is a “writer, researcher, former journalist, recidivist poet, and apprentice allotmenteer”  and the author of How to Save our Town Centres, available here, and which has featured in this blog before

Posted in "We" towns, Bristol Pound, Citizens, Community, Consumers, Creative Places, Incredible Edible, Local Retailers, Places, Planning, Public Realm, Retail Change, Social Justice, Spaces, Stokes Croft, Totnes, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do Times Change? Cardiff Market

My fascination with markets is pretty well known and has been rolled out in posts in this blog on a regular basis.  One of the markets that has featured has been Cardiff Market; somewhere I have been visiting for over 50 years.

During that half-century or so I have often marvelled at, and purchased from Ashtons, the fishmongers at one of the entrances.  It really is a magnificent sight not only for its display and the volume of customers it attracts, but also for its sense of history and style.  The photos below don’t do it justice, but give a small flavour (their website has a short video on the current business and their ethos)

ashtons 2Ashtons 1

Cardiff Market remains for me a fascinating and evocative place.  Some of the stalls seem unchanging – both food and non-food – even though the product may have altered over time.  The quality (and price) of the food remains a major attraction.  New additions – spices and sweets – add variety, and the cafes, cake stalls provide a wide range and service.

Some of my first memories are of the lesser explored upper balcony, where my father took me when he bought medals and trophies for basketball competitions he ran.  At that time there was also the café (Faggots and Peas) and the pet stalls.  Both remain but the latter much reduced. Many of the upper stalls have declined and closed (though Kelly’s Records is going strong and worth exploring).

Visiting the upper floor again the other week I came across a display on the history of the market.  It mentions the origins of the current market from 1835 (and the need for it to replace the pre-cursor markets as the City grew) and has some interesting photos and comments.

Market Letter 1835

What really caught my eye though was the pieces on Ashton’s and their claimed status ina letter form 1930 of being in their place in the market from 1866 (though Ashton’s website mentions being in the market since 1890, which probably refers to the current structure).  Does this make them the longest running market stall in the UK?

1930 Letter

Their letter to the Market authorities from 1930 noted amongst other things that:

  • Trade is currently much reduced (this was in the Recession)
  • In such circumstances increased costs were harassing beleaguered shopkeepers (plus ca change?)
  • Their rent was to be increased by 22% per week!
  • Tenancy could be terminated on 7 days notice (wow).

Ashtons case as laid out in their letter (and one hopes/assumes they got relief) was that vital, long-standing, investing and employing businesses should not be penalised in such ways.  The ‘deal’ does seem a little outrageous, though the circumstances seem very familiar today.

If you are in Cardiff, go to the market and spend your money there.  If you want fish or poultry (and top-class it is) seek out Ashton’s.

Ashtons Photo with letterAshton Postcard

Posted in Cardiff, Consumers, Corporate History, Costs, Fish, Food, Food Retailing, Historic Shops, History, Local Retailers, Markets, Rates, Regulation, Rents, Retail Change, Retail History, Urban History, Wales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trends in Retailing and Leisure in Scotland’s Towns and Cities

In late November a good audience gathered before breakfast in Glasgow for the Local Data Company/University of Stirling 5th Scottish Retail Summit, and heard presentations and discussions about trends in Scottish retailing and town centres. The infographic at the end of this blog provides some headlines and my introduction and commentary will be made available on this blog in the New Year.

In the meantime however, the chair of the morning, Jane Bradley from the Scotsman, and Matthew Hopkinson from the Local Data Company have authored short immediate commentaries. The originals can be found on the Local Data Company website (see links below), but are reproduced here as well:

Jane Bradley writes:

“It is something which many retailers would find it hard to face up to.

“We just have too many shops,” property consultant Graham Seaton told delegates at the 5th LDC Scottish Retail and Leisure Trends summit. And it seems he is right. The LDC report showed, for the first time in five years, a slight increase in vacancy rates on high streets in Scottish towns, while units previously occupied by Booze, Money and Gambling (BMG) firms, are being vacated at a rate of knots.

Seaton, who is in charge of property at the Ann Summers chain, echoed the thoughts of fellow panellist Caitriona McAuley, head of economic growth at North Ayrshire Council, who pointed to data which showed an increase in leisure and services businesses which could rejuvenate Scottish town centres. Since the Malcolm Fraser report four years ago, councils have been tasked with tackling not only economic regeneration, but to bring community life back to Scotland’s towns in a bid to stamp out social isolation and loneliness.

Jim Harper, regional business manager of Scotmid Co-operative, the third panellist presenting to the summit, held at KPMGs offices in Glasgow, argued that there was not “too many” shops, but just the “wrong kinds” of shops, saying that the convenience store market was continuing to grow.

The rise of charity shops is also slowing, the report showed. In fact, Leigh Sparks, professor of Retail Studies at Stirling University, who co-authored the report, begged the question as to whether we are at “peak charity”? Once lumped in with the “Booze, Money and Gambling” collective, LDC’s decision to separate out the sector was borne out of the theory that people did not necessarily regard them as a bad thing. People in Edinburgh, especially, it seems – where there are more charity shops than in Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow combined, comprising 51 per cent of Scotland’s charity shop stock.

Legislative changes, such as the Financial Conduct Authority’s crackdown a few years ago on payday lenders, are starting to filter through onto the high street, the study found, with some payday loan premises opting to leave as leases come to an end. Cambuslang has the highest “BMG” score of all towns and cities in Scotland, with 16.1 per cent of its retail stock falling into this category. Meanwhile, Kirkwall, Callendar, Bearsden, Grantown-on-Spey and Ullapool all have no retail premises occupied by businesses which fall into this category.

No retail report would be complete without mentioning the rise of the internet, especially pertinent in a week when, while Black Friday sales continued to rise, footfall was not as buoyant, suggesting that many people had opted to do their Christmas shopping online.

Discussion of Amazon’s foray into the grocery market with the acquisition of Whole Foods prompted the insistence from Harper that he could see a time when “people will have their shopping delivered into their back gardens by drones”, but that the retail sector would adapt and that people would always want to shop, at least for food, in physical stores.”

Matthew Hopkinson writes:

“On November 28th, was the Local Data Company’s (LDC) fifth Scottish Retail and Leisure Trends Summit held in partnership with the University of Stirling. The report revealed interesting insights as to how Scottish centres are performing relative to England and Wales but also relative to each other. There was also a short presentation by Chris Fowler of LDC on how data is being captured and used at a local level to understand performance and opportunity with a case study from Aberdeenshire Council on the town of Peterhead.

The report findings were presented by Professor Leigh Sparks of the Centre for Retail Studies at the University of Stirling off the back of which there was an excellent panel discussion (see panellists above) as well as questions from the audience. The key findings can be summarised as follows;

  • The Scottish retail and leisure vacancy rate is currently 11.9%, a +0.2% increase on the rate in 2016 – this is the first year-on-year increase in Scottish town centre vacancy in five years.
  • Overall retail vacancy in cities and towns now averages 12.3%, down from 12.6% in 2016 and has reduced significantly since 2013 when rates were 13.4%.
  • Glasgow and Edinburgh continue to dominate the retail scene in Scotland accounting for 15.7 % of all retail premises.


Figure 1. Number of retail premises across Scottish cities in 2015, 2016 and 2017 (Source: LDC)

  • Scottish towns and cities have seen a fall in retail vacancy but a rise in leisure vacancy.
  • Retail park vacancy has decreased from 7.8% in 2016 to 6.7% in 2017 although this remains the highest retail park vacancy rate across GB.
  • Shopping centre vacancy rates have also improved from 16.9% to 15.1% – the largest reduction in shopping centre vacancy across GB – which can potentially be attributed to modernization of older centers across Scotland, with an increased focus on leisure.
  • Across the sixty six shopping centres measured, 20 have more than a 20% vacancy rate, with the highest being Callendar Square in Falkirk at 64.9%.
  • Edinburgh continues to have the lowest Scottish city vacancy rate of 8.2%.
  • Dundee has the highest level of Scottish city vacancy at 21.7% although this is an improvement on 2016. It also remains the city with the highest persistent vacancy at 9.7%.
  • There has been progress in persistent vacancy overall in 2017 with 11 of 124 towns showing persistent vacancy of over 10% versus 17 towns in 2016.
  • There are 20 Scottish towns with 0% persistent vacancy including St. Andrews, Aviemore, Gretna, Inverurie and Biggar. 
  • Leisure continues to grow in Scotland, accounting for 26.7% of the total retail/leisure premises, an increase from 26.4% on last year.
  • Cities are becoming more leisure orientated at a faster pace than towns.
  • Across both cities and towns, the proportion of independent retailers is increasing whilst the proportion of multiples in decreasing. Independent retail in cities has grown from 54% to 57% since 2013 whilst towns have grown from 53% to 55% over the same period.
  • Edinburgh and Perth are the cities with the highest percentage of independent retail at 69% and 67% respectively.
  • Four towns have over 80% of the retail offer as independent retail; Moffat, Strathaven, Rothesay and Gourock (which had the highest level of independent retail at 84.6%).

figure-31.jpgFigure 2. Top five Scottish towns by the number of Independents as a percentage
of the total units in 2017 (Source: LDC)

  • Convenience shopping has increased across both cities and towns year on year since 2013.
  • The 2017 BMG index highlights that since 2013, all three areas have reduced resulting in the town BMG index dropping from 4.9% in 2016 to 3.8% in 2017; whilst the city index dropped from 3.0% to 1.9% over the same period – an indicator that new legislative control is having a positive impact.

figure-36.jpgFigure 3. Average BMG score for Scottish Towns compared to Scottish cities in 2017 (Source: LDC)

The panel discussion was wide ranging but key themes that I took away included;

  • The costs for retailers keep rising (or the profits keep dropping!) as a result of legislative changes, business rates, government levy’s and minimum wage policies and all of that is before one considers rents.
  • Challenges are on the increase from the uncertainty of Brexit, currency devaluation, more demanding shoppers, less shopper loyalty and consumers being short of time but spoilt for choice.
  • Towns are a critical part of the economy and communities and exist as a ‘place to come together’ as well as being a ‘reflection of the people who live there’. Irvine was cited as an interesting example of a town that has a high street, shopping centre and retail park all sitting next to each other and competing with each other but where the council has a strategy and plan to raise the attractiveness and health of the town.
  • The last five years have seen significant repositioning and restructuring within many towns and cities (but not all) and that physical stores have a key role to play and this is seen by continued openings and refurbishment of space.
  • Retailers have trained the customer to not buy at full price which is creating year- round discounting and heavily impacting profitability.
  • We just have too many shops for modern retailing needs (and continue to build more) so we need to find alternative uses for these buildings that will contribute to the vibrancy of towns.
  • Towns and cities are on different trajectories when it comes to evolution and change.
  • Having a physical store presence is a key driver for online sales and the growth of click & collect illustrates this. Product differentiation by online and offline purchases needs to be recognized when it comes to what you display instore as impossible for many to show their full inventory in a physical space. Use of digital enables you to have smaller stores to assist in inventory display.

Professor Leigh Sparks summarised what the report was saying as follows;

Town centres are always changing and it is vitally important to monitor and understand the dimensions of this change. The data from the local Data Company show that the process of adjustment and change across Scotland’s towns and cities continues but is not uniform.

The headline vacancy figure for towns has risen in the last year but this masks a decline in retail vacancy and a rise in leisure vacancy, the latter for the first time since this series began. We have also seen a decline in the number of charity shops. These two sectors are ones which have expanded rapidly in Scotland in recent years, and the data poses the question whether this year’s changes are a pause in expansion or a reverse?

Within the data there are many examples of towns which have been restructuring and redeveloping and thus a focus on one year’s snapshot vacancy figures are unhelpful. Overall, retail vacancy across Scotland continues to fall.”

My conclusions would be that the report reflects the structural changes that are taking place UK wide.

Whilst town centre vacancy rates have stabilised they have not shown the improvement that shopping centres and retail parks have shown, which for some therein lies the challenge.

As with all of LDC’s data the devil is in the detail as well as understanding the wider context. An example is that whilst Scotland’s shopping centres have more occupied shops that in previous years they still have more empty shopping centre units than England and Wales. Is this as a result of oversupply, underdevelopment or that high streets and retail parks are the core destinations for consumers?

The report also evidences the changes taking place in shop occupation in Scotland, with fewer comparison goods shops and more food & beverage and service (e.g. health & beauty) outlets. The reduction of charity shops is worthy of note, as is the reduction in the number of Booze, Money and Gambling outlets (BMG). This is one that many might not expect, but is something that has been a focus for the country’s politician’s and public health organisations.

The changing nature of places and how they serve the modern consumer is clearly evident in this report. An understanding of these changes and alignment to a plan at each and every town level is key to maintaining the relevance and value of Scotland’s towns. As with evolution it is important to maintain a mind-set of adaptability in such a fast-changing world. There remains an oversupply of traditional shops in Scotland, as elsewhere in the UK, but what is clear is that maintaining a physical connection is something that consumers do and will continue to value and support through physical store visits.

I would like to make a final vote of thanks, as this will be my last Scottish Summit as I move on from LDC at the end of the year, to Leigh Sparks and his colleagues at Stirling (Anne Findlay and Lorraine Ferguson) for working with LDC to create evidence research and insight on Scotland’s towns, cities, shopping centres and retail parks which did not exist previously. By having a foundation of solid data, academic rigour in its analysis and a willingness to share the findings I believe all stakeholders in Scotland’s places can, and will, make better decisions in the future for the good of all. Final thanks is due to KPMG (and especially David McCorquodale) for hosting this event for the last five years in Edinburgh and Glasgow.”

Scottish Infographic Nov 17-08

Posted in Community, Consumer Change, Convenience stores, Data, Food Retailing, High Streets, Institute for Retail Studies, Internet, Local Authorities, Local Data Company, Local Retailers, Places, Policy, Regeneration, Reinvention, Retail Planning, Retailers, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Scotland's Towns Partnership, Scottish Retailing, Secondary Locations, Shopping Centres, Small Towns, Store Closures, Tourism, Town Centre Action Plan, Town Centre Review, Town Centres, Towns, Trends, University of Stirling, Vacancies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy 50th to/from the University of Stirling

Launch Bottles

I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in this blog, but more often on Twitter – 2017/18 is the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the University of Stirling.  Whilst I have not been here since the start (honest), though it sometimes feels like that, I have put in a fair shift.

One of the questions in preparing for the 50th was around how to mark the occasion.  We have, and are doing this in many ways, but the traditional one is by a book.  We last did that for our 25th and I think there is still a room full of spares somewhere.

Bomont Book

The 25th Book

The 50th ‘book’ is thus not traditional in its approach.  It is a book, but it is no history of chronological form.  Instead it is an eclectic collection of 50 objects which together tell a story and give a picture of the University.  It encourages, and is well worth, dipping in to. The student newspaper – the Brig (one of the 50 objects itself) – has a nice piece on the story of this new book.

Fifty Front

My contribution is on the ‘object’ of the Campus Supermarket (hence the bottles in the slide at the start of this post) but takes this as its starting point.  It explores the development of our retail education programmes in South-East Asia and specifically Singapore.  I reproduce it below as it may be of interest to this audience and the picture may help to suggest the format of the book. More helpfully perhaps you can also download the piece here.  Some of you may have your own viewpoints and recollections to add, so please comment here or email in.

Chapter Page 1

Chapter page 2

I know I am biased but the book is well worth a read for anyone with any link to the University, or indeed beyond this.  If you like good photographs I can recommend the book for these too, by the award winning Elaine Livingstone.  Copies can be purchased here (and at a reduced price for alumni).


Posted in Academics, Art, Christmas, Corporate History, Education, Heritage, History, Institute for Retail Studies, Japanese, Retail Degrees, Retail History, Retailing, Singapore, Stirling, University of Stirling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Talking Tesco (Again)

It has been quite a few weeks for Tesco, currently ending in the positive column.  The recent interim results showed quite a lot of commercial progress and the intended restoration of the dividend cheered the City considerably.  The trials of the recent past have been put behind it in trading terms and performance seems to have stabilised and then improved.  There remains a degree of fragility to this and it is a work-in-progress with strong competition and adverse consumer sentiment winds.  But it is a change from the dark days of the not too recent past.

These dark days have been having some sunshine focused on them in the shape of the trial of former Tesco executives around the rather large accounting hole in the company accounts a few years ago.  It is not clear yet how this will play out (and the trial is ongoing and could be for some time), but some of the statements and actions do not show the company in a positive light.  The extent to which this is individual actions or the culture expected, remains to be seen.  For Tesco it is not a pretty sight, made worse by a case of unfair dismissal being brought by a sacked executive, who was not subsequently prosecuted.

What has been much more to their liking however was the, to many, surprise announcement that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) are minded to allow the Tesco acquisition of Booker.  Their provisional findings are that there will be no ‘substantial lessening of competition’ in the UK.  The general surprise when the merger/takeover announcement was made is now matched by their provisional findings.  Representations can still be made, but on the surface and current evidence, the deal will happen (though at least one major shareholder remains against the deal on price grounds).

There has been both a sense of incredulity and inevitability about this.  The incredulity comes from the CMA reasoning and its ‘previous’ in blocking local markets/impacts and other mergers etc. e.g. local convenience stores and opticians at a hyper local level.  Yet Tesco with c30% of the food market can be allowed to obtain greater control of more of the market.  The inevitability stems from both a feeling of unwillingness to intervene at such a macro level and from the ‘domino’ effect on NISA (who voted to be taken over by the Co-op), Costcutter and so on.  The desire to ‘do a Tesco’ and get into wholesaling has expanded as the deal became more likely.  If you can’t beat ‘em, then…….

The CMA seems to be concluding there are lots of competitive opportunities and post-merger nothing much will change.  I can accept the former in that there is competition, but the latter is naive. Some Booker supported retailers are pleased about the deal as they feel they will get much keener prices and better support; others though see this as lessening competition in the medium term as independent retailers and other contractual chains will struggle to compete and stay open. The control the new entity will have in the convenience market will be a powerful weapon to further grow and it is hard to see what will oppose it.

A final Tesco thought, but not from these shores.  On my recent trip to Singapore, I visited a new (3 day open) NTUC FairPrice store.  Within it was a delineated Tesco section as shown below.  On investigating further it seems that this deal with NTUC goes beyond the example I saw, covering online product sales (via FairPrice and HonestBee) and an in-store Finest concession in the Bukit Timah store – as shown in the piece from the Straits Times.  Examples of the more innovative thinking that has begun to be seen across the company – and could be coming to a Booker store near you soon.

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Posted in Accounting, Booker, CMA, Competition, Competition and Markets Authority, Convenience stores, Finest, Food Retailing, International Retailing, Local Retailers, Market Shares, NTUC FairPrice, Profits, Retail Change, Retailers, Singapore, Suppliers, Tesco, Wholesaling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perth – Past, Present, Future

Perth PPF

Last week I ventured north to the ‘Fair City’ of Perth for a presentation at a Scottish Civic Trust and Perth Civic Trust evening event on the theme of Perth: Past, Present and Future.  I had been given the task of looking to the future and especially in the context of retailing and what those in Perth seem to view as the problems they face.  Basically an outsider pontificating about an unknown future – no pressure them!

The evening should really have started with a chorus of Happy Birthday, as both the Scottish Civic Trust (and Perth Civic Trust) and the University of Stirling are celebrating their/our 50th Anniversaries.  1967 was indeed a fine year.  I could not help musing that if Stirling had not beaten Perth in the competition for the new University for Scotland, then I could have been presenting as a professor from the University of Perth.

Three presentations were made (including mine) and then a good hour or so of discussion and questions.

The introductory presentation (the Past) was by Professor David Munro who covered 800 years of Perth history in 10 minutes.  Broad in scope and erudite in nature, as benefits a former Director of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, David developed a theme of the development of the streetscape and morphology of Perth and its special characteristics.

Second up was the Depute Chief Executive of Perth and Kinross Council, Jim Valentine tackling the Present.  Normally at events like this, council officers get a rough time, but in his coverage of the Perth Present, Jim laid out a realistic framework for considering the council situation and some of the ideas already in place to improve the city.  Inevitably the City Hall proposals got a mention.

My contribution was meant to be focused on retailing and Perth and I did get there in the end.  The overheads are available for download here.  Crystal ball gazing in retailing is a mug’s game, especially to an audience who know the place concerned better than you do.  So I opted for the safe ground of a narrative about why towns and cities matter, retail change generally and then some specific (outsider) considerations for Perth.  What struck me as I showed some of the Local Data Company data was that the historical influences David Munro talked about, were still so evident in the present day and will shape the future.

Perth LDC

Local Data Company Map and Dashboard for Perth – full details about this dashboard or equivalents for any town/centre available from the Local Data Company

The discussion was open and frank and only occasionally drifted over to the perennials of car parking and rates.  The main focus was on people – as it should be – and the need for more people living in the centre and the realism or challenge of the Council’s ambition for population growth, in terms of facilities, employment and capacity.

From my point of view I was not just opting for a safe evening by being more complementary than not about Perth and its future.  Many of the problems Perth faces (in retailing and central streets) are not unique and indeed the data (from for example our Understanding Scottish Places website) shows Perth is doing well/better than say Dundee or Stirling.  In retail terms it has one of the highest proportions of independent retailers and is comparatively diverse (as shown in our 2016 Retail Summit).  The pessimism of some in the audience is for me misplaced.  Perth has major assets and is using them.  The plans for the future are positive and the place is pulling together.  Yes, challenges of accommodating change abound and will continue, but there is a sound basis for the future.  It was an enjoyable and in the end positive evening and the three presentations dovetailed well given we’d not discussed them in advance.



McEwans Department Store in Perth  – soon to reopen as Beales first Scottish store

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Closure, Consumer Change, Consumers, High Streets, Historic Shops, History, Independents, Online Retailing, Perth, Places, Public Realm, Reinvention, Retail Planning, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Shopfronts, Store Closures, Streets, Streetscapes, Town Centre Living, Town Centres, Understanding Scottish Places, Urban History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments