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.