How important is Christmas to the high street?

9 January 2020 0

We’ve all seen the doom and gloom headlines about the demise of the high street and the increasing need for retail outlets to evolve against the challenges of online shopping. While there’s no doubt these challenges exist, Christmas shopping time is traditionally a rare highlight for retailers.

Christmas markets, festive lights and decorations, and the chance for a mulled wine means that Christmas is the busiest time of the year for the high street. However, analysis suggests that footfall this Christmas was down compared to the same period last year. Some high streets will have fared better than others but it’s important to understand why this is, and what has or hasn’t worked.

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) across the country will now be reflecting on the busier Christmas period and making plans for 2020. It’s important for BIDs to understand why people visit the high street and how to keep them coming back.

For example, new research has shown that independent stores are more popular than major retail chains on UK high streets. The recent closure of 19 Debenham stores is further proof of this. Shoppers want a unique experience that isn’t available online and the onus is on local councils and BIDs to provide this. We are therefore seeing new reasons to visit the high street being introduced, including regular markets, sporting events and cultural festivals.

There are a variety of ways in which you can use research to understand your visitor audience and inform your city centre strategy.

Destination visitor surveys

The best way of understanding your visitors is to get out there and speak to them. Visitor surveys help destinations to identify demographics, the primary reason for a visit, what they enjoyed and the likelihood of a return visit. Evaluating visitors during the busy festive period can help identify ways in which to attract a higher footfall throughout the year.  

Research will now be available that can help you work on your visitor strategy. This should now influence marketing campaigns and the type and frequency of events that are held in city centres and on high streets.

Event impact

Events are becoming an important part of a city’s visitor strategy. Increasingly, local authorities and BIDs are looking for ways to attract visitors and prolong the time they spend in a destination. Evaluating the impact of events can help demonstrate ROI to funders, shape future decisions and attract additional sponsorship. 

An Event Impact Model can be flexible in the way that you use it. The benefits include the ease of data collection, generally good sample sizes and access to quality responses thanks to anonymity. Anecdotal feedback can also be useful when looking at the shape of future events in city centres.

Using research gathered from visitor and event impact surveys, along with data from online channels, can enhance any city centre strategy and ensure that the high street is not just for Christmas.

Here at NGI Solutions, we’ve completed visitor and event impact studies in destinations across the UK which have helped local authorities and BIDs attract more visitors into city centres. Please get in touch if you would like to speak to one of our research experts.

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Ian Thomas

Associate Director