High streets urged to adapt as retailers face big challenges

THE need for town centres to adapt in response to the profound challenges facing the retail sector will be brought into focus at a key business event next month.

The Herald will bring together a panel of business experts to examine how towns and cities traditionally dominated by shops can plan for the future in light of tough conditions on the high street. Held in association with law firm CMS, the Future of our High Street Business Breakfast comes as the rise of internet shopping, increasing overheads and fragile consumer confidence are putting pressure on high street stores.

Mark McMurray, partner at CMS, said towns need to adapt to “secure a sustainable future for their high streets”. Mr McMurray, who will take part in the panel debate, said: “Elsewhere in the UK, the issue of high street regeneration is being considered alongside the need for more housing.

“They have introduced reduced planning control for changes from traditional high street uses, such as offices, to residential, although not without controversy about the quality of some of the housing delivered.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and each area will need to decide what will work in each of their towns. It will be important that the legal framework gives authorities across Scotland the tools to make those decisions and involve the wide range of parties required to deliver change.”

The event will hear from business experts including Katie Moody of Princes Square, and Emma Mackenzie of NewRiver, the property investment firm. Joe Barratt of The Teenage Market, which gives young people platforms to showcase their creative talents, will also appear.

The panel will examine how local authorities, retailers, communities and investors can tackle the challenges facing Scotland’s towns and cities, including regeneration plans and moves to develop the “experience economy”.

Ms Mackenzie said: “Our high streets and towns are undergoing fundamental change driven by multiple factors and we have to see this an opportunity to meet the needs of the people who live there. This won’t happen overnight but with strong leadership, a collaborative approach, investment and foresight there is great potential for positive change.”

Ms Moody said: “One of the biggest challenges for the high street is keeping up with the transformation of shopping habits. While retailers continue to invest heavily in their online platforms to improve conversions and customer journeys there can be less of a sleekness in the physical bricks and mortar store and this is where there is a massive opportunity for retailers to create a seamless omni-channel experience.”

The event takes place at the CMS office at 1 West Regent Street, Glasgow, on Tuesday June 4.