Sunday 24 April 2016

Good news for local shops?

Good news for local shops. Disposable income has soared by 13% in Stoke-on-Trent since the recession, according to new research. Disposable income is the money a household has left to spend or save, after their taxes and mortgages or rent. The government's various big tax cuts and similar measures have probably helped to boost that, as well as the jobs boom that West Midlands businesses have worked so hard to achieve.

But what's the extra disposable income being spent on? And is it being spent locally down in Stoke town? Maybe, maybe not... if the nearby Hanley is any comparable measure. The number of shoppers visiting Stoke-on-Trent city-centre (Hanley) was down by 8.1% over the past year (since early spring 2015). That's from new research from IPSOS, which also suggest that these kind of big city-centre dips are because many UK shoppers prefer to spend their new hard-earned disposable income on things like...

* eat out.

* go on overseas holidays.

* enjoy a countryside which has very seriously geared up, since 2008, to attract visitors and to extract cash from them.

But the unusual demographic and geographic arrangement of Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire means that overseas holidays can't be the only reason for a big dip in Stoke-on-Trent city-centre visitors of 8.1% over the past year. I'd suggest this 8.1% dip may be down to a complex combination of factors, with overseas holidays 'in the mix' but with the UK weather likely to be biggest factor...

* the bad summer weather followed by a dismal wet winter. That clothes retailers such as M&S, Austin Reed, Primark and BHS seem to have suffered the most, would seem to confirm this theory about the weather.

* many former heavy shoppers (the female equivalent of "£50 man") are apparently now no longer in the UK for long periods. They go abroad on holiday for three or four weeks of the year, and also shop heavily on the Internet just before they go.

* even shoppers who can't afford overseas holidays are increasingly likely to be motoring out to countryside market towns, or to the rural-urban fringes (places like Trentham Gardens), at the weekend. Part of that will be a direct result of the UK's ongoing and massive 'baby boom', as small kids who are now 3-7 get 'taken out for the day' by grandparents and/or parents, something that IPSOS seem to have overlooked in their report. I mean... no-one in their right mind would want to traipse their poor tots around the shops in Hanley for a day out.

* the increasing number of druggies and alcoholics hanging around in a 'shouty' manner and and aggressively 'kicking off' in Hanley, putting off those who might otherwise have walked into the city centre or taken small kids there. The relentless and lurid news coverage by The Sentinel newspaper probably hasn't helped boost the city centre's reputation, in that regard, over the last couple of years.

* the increasing difficulty of getting anywhere inside Stoke-on-Trent with a car, and then parking once one gets there. Plus the expensive and generally unpleasant bus services, which also get stalled in the city's increasing traffic. If you've ever been stalled in a bus crawling toward Cobridge traffic lights on a hot day, jammed next to 'Sweaty' Greg and his shouty mate, then you'll known what I mean.

* the increasing appeal of the adjacent Stoke town for many students, partly due to the number of indie shops and the town's strong arts and music buzz. At a guess I'd say that many students may no longer be visiting Hanley at all, to shop — when in Stoke town they can access an excellent Sainsbury's, just across the road from a major vinyl record shop and a large Maplins.

* and the ongoing lack of small high-quality indie shops in Hanley, which is of course common in the UK's city centres. The closure of Webberleys (the indie 'department store' for books) and the opening of the huge out-of-town M&S megastore at Wolstanton, probably won't help in attracting upmarket shoppers to Hanley this coming summer. Big changes, such as those two, will likely drown out any overall boost in footfall that might come from the handful of excellent new indie shops that are emerging in the city-centre.

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