Improving high street performance by communication

As part of a town or city’s marketing communications, communication strategies need to highlight retail change and need to encourage customers to change their shopping habits in a way that will sustain such change (Kirkup & Rafiq, 1999; Warnaby, Bennison, & Davies, 2005).

A good example of this is communicating changes in opening hours. For example, late night opening initiatives can fail if shoppers are unaware of the extended opening times.

Whilst place promotion and communication strategies to shoppers are, on the whole, improving; communication between traders on the High Street is very poor. A study we undertook in 2005 showed that only 40% of
SME traders were in any sort of network to receive information about their sector or location.

There is more commentary about communication contained in our blogs on collaboration, engagement and networks.


Kirkup, M. H., & Rafiq, M. (1999). Marketing shopping centres: challenges in the UK context. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5(5), 119–133.


Warnaby, G., Bennison, D., & Davies, B. J. (2005). Marketing communications in planned shopping centres: evidence from the UK. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 33(12), 893–904.


How business rates impact upon high street performance – the evidence

There is an ongoing talk about the re-evaluation of business rates, and several high profile reports (e.g. the Grimsey Review 2013) call for drastic measures in the business rates system before it is ‘too late’ for the high street.

The University of Liverpool and Local Data Company are investigating factors that affect business rates (occupation, vacancy rates and rents ) and their preliminary analysis highlighted the disproportions in rents, vacancy rates and business rates – meaning some high streets are suffering more than others.

A CLG (2011) report presented a government plan that allows local authorities to retain a part of the income generated by business rates to reinvest in their own economic development priorities .

However, De Magalhaes’s (2012) highlights the problem with redistribution of business rates to local authorities, which still does not guarantee money will be spent in-line with a particular place’s priorities.

This is in contrast to the surtax generated by Business Improvement Districts, which is always re-invested locally, according to priorities set by the BIDs’ members.

Secondary shopping areas seem to suffer the most from the business rates system, and this was recognised in a scoping paper by Tym et al. (2000) who called for business rates revisions in these areas.

Also, Findlay & Sparks (2009) raised their concerns about business rates and argued whether they are well matched with the buying power of users and types of retailer present in a location.

In our research, business rates came out the 32nd strongest influence on high street performance, out of 200 factors, on a equal pegging with rents.

We will be presenting the order of influence of all 200 factors we investigated at the free High Street 2020 conference in Manchester on 10th July 2014.

Please click here to register.


CLG. (2011). Local Government Resource Review: Proposals for Business Rates Retention – Consultation, (July).

De Magalhaes, C., & De Magalhães, C. (2012). Business Improvement Districts and the recession: Implications for public realm governance and management in England. Progress in Planning, 77(4), 143–177. Retrieved from

Findlay, A., & Sparks, L. (2009). Literature Review: Policies Adopted to Support A Healthy Retail Sector and Retail Led Regeneration and the Impact of Retail on the Regeneration of Town Centres and Local High Streets. Scottish Government. Retrieved April 29, 2014, from

Grimsey, B, 2013, The Grimsey Review.

Tym, R. (2000). Secondary Shopping: Retail Capacity and Need —A Scoping Paper. National Retail Planning Forum, (June 9).

Place marketing and sustainable places

Recently, Piccadilly Gardens was voted Manchester’s worst attraction on Tripadvisor. The designers of Piccadilly Gardens, Arup, say “Piccadilly Gardens transforms Manchester’s central park from a problem area into an effective public space”. On the other hand tripadvisors say “Designed by numpties. Dirty, rotten, awful area. Avoid at all costs. Shameful display and use of civic area.”

Piccadilly Gardens is a ‘great’ example to use to illustrate the complexities inherent in place marketing and how the practice must change if it wants to be relevant in the context of sustainable places. In the last couple of months I have been asked to speak about the topic of place marketing and sustainability at three international tourism conferences. Most recently, this was at the 1st Corfu Symposium on Managing and Marketing Places.

What visitors (and many locals) don’t like about Piccadilly Gardens is the rubbish. Traditionally the role of place marketing has been to attract mobile investment, like tourists or to boost economic activity, such as ‘the evening economy’.

Place marketing activity is designed to draw additional inputs into the system – but with little or no regard for the unwanted outputs created, like litter. If visitors and residents are seeing something as simple as rubbish build up – then that’s saying the system isn’t working. Worse than that – our most recent research demonstrates, unequivocally, that rubbish is impacting on peoples’ place attitudes and increasing their anticipation of witnessing other sorts of incivilities – such as harassment, drug-dealing and public drunkenness. This then makes them wary of the very space that is supposed to be attracting them, illustrating how more interconnected place marketing activity needs to be with other aspects of place management. Is the place marketing budget better spent on more place promotion or more tidying up?

We can tip-toe around the eggshells here – but being blunt – a lot of place marketing activity conflicts with the philosophy of a sustainable place. Place marketing based on the mantra of place competition is always about attracting resources away from somewhere else. Meaning there is winners and losers. Sustainability is about everyone surviving.

Place marketing’s obsession with drawing resources from the ‘outside in’ (inward investment) means, at the moment, it does not have much to offer those trying to create more sustainable forms of development, from within. The empty shops on the UK High Street and the empty hotel rooms in Corfu show how destructive global systems can be on specific places. International property developers, retail chains and tour operators all see location as a key part of their business strategy – but have no loyalty or attachment to any one particular place.

Gold and Ward (1994) stated that “Public or quasi-public policy should embody notions of public good and social benefits, but not promote one place at the expense of another” so to be relevant in the future, place marketers should take heed of this advice (better late than never).

Marketing has evolved from the transactional, one-dimensional activity it once was. It has become more strategic, theories such as the service profit chain, demonstrate the value of service companies investing in their staff, as employee satisfaction is a driver of customer satisfaction. Relationship marketing proves the value of keeping customers rather than attracting new ones. The trouble is these developments in marketing theory don’t reach many of the people practicing place marketing.

The opportunity for place marketing is to shift its focus to endogenous development. Recently, Cambridge was identified as the best city to find a job with 0.22 jobseekers per vacancy. 100 less than in Salford. Whilst Cambridge University competes on a world-stage to attract talent…..that talent often stays. Local firms are supported – there is an home-grown innovation supply chain. Successful companies say you are only two phone calls away from what you need.

If we accept sustainability is a legitimate (perhaps the ultimate goal of a place), then place marketing has an important role in communicating this vision and helping to glue everything together. If it continues to just promote and ‘sell’ places, then it becomes just another destructive force, taking much needed public funding away from building a more sustainable future for our towns and cities.

HS2020 research presented at Inside Government: Next Steps for Revitalising UK High Streets

A guest blog by Dr Costastas Theodoridis and Dr Amna Kahn, of the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University

Town-centre and BID managers, policy-makers, practitioners and academics were gathered in London to discuss the revitalisation of the UK High Streets. In the all-day ‘Next Steps for Revitalising UK High Streets’ event delegates had the opportunity to find out about the recent developments in digital and traditional high-street management and development. The event was chaired by Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick from Loughborough University who also delivered a keynote speech focused on the digital high-street health-check index developed by her and her colleagues.

A lot of attention was paid to the digitisation of the high-streets and particularly to the benefits that retail organisations will see if they develop an active digital presence. Steve Woolley, from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, highlighted the impact that the management of the personal data has to the patronage of retailers and the threats that may occur if a retailer misuse the data collected by the consumers. The Institute of Place Management was represented in the event by its Director Simon Quin who reminded to the delegates the importance of location and the physical place, and presented the findings of the High Street UK 2020 project.

Simon discussed how the evolution of the retail environment is changing, looking at various relevant trends as identified by the part-funded ESRC HSUK2020 research project. As well as talking about the 25 priorities for town/city centre vitality and viability, Simon also presented research findings relating to footfall signatures that identify different kinds of centres and provided the views of the Institute of Place Management on the emerging issues. Simon Pitkeathley’s, CEO of the Camden Town Unlimited, presentation on the use of the technology to facilitate the transformation of High Streets addressed how the visual appearance, the visionary management of the High Streets, the development of diverse anchors and stores, and the amount and quality of recreational space in a High Street – areas identified within the 25 priorities for the High Streets in the HS2020 project – provided evidence from Camden Town on how the physical place can be promoted to the consumers through the use of digital tools.

The delegates had the opportunity to ask their questions to the speakers and their answers provided valuable insight on the understanding of the instrumental role of the digital technology to place management.lower_high_street_2_670_230_84_c1_c_c_0_0_1