Tuesday, 3 September 2013

When consumers became “hyper” active

In November 1964 American based retailers, Gem International Supercentre Incorporated, opened the first modern hypermarket on the outskirts of Birmingham. With parking spaces for 1,000 cars, around 50 departments under the one roof, including furniture, clothing, a pharmacy and hardware, this “windowless” store amazed the 30,000 people who turned up on the first week of its opening. Now occupied by an Asda superstore, this signalled the start of the introduction to out of town shopping to the British public. It also heralded a change in our consumer habits as we began to move away from the high street, although the blame for the demise and decline of the city centre cannot be set squarely at the foot of hypermarket. Online shopping, the cost of parking, inadequate public transport or suitable parking areas, lack of choice,you can take your pick, as these are just some of the reasons why we don’t head down to the city centre for our shopping spree. Walk down any high street in many towns or city centres and you would be hard pressed to say which conurbation you were actually standing in. The same row of mainstream clothing stores, a frozen food retailer, fast food outlets, a couple of charity shops and you could be just about anywhere. 

Consuming passion 

When Mary Portas spearheaded her campaign to bring back choice, support the independent retailer and breathe new life into the high street along with government backing, as someone with a retail background, I for one applauded the decision. At the same time, it was also necessary to review some of the crippling business rates imposed on city centre stores and smaller independent shops. However bids went out to all councils who put together their proposals to be a Portas pilot. 27 localities were chosen and grants given to shopkeepers to help rejuvenate the face of the local high street – the money going to the people on the shop floor so to speak. But, listening yesterday morning to Bill Grimsey,the former boss of Iceland and Wickes, not everyone is happy with this approach. 

Taxing times for the independent retailer 

Bill Grimsey is calling for all large retailers to give a one off levy, around ¼ of a percent of their profits, which will generate approximately 550 million pounds. This money would then be used to fund Town Centre commissions who will develop business plans along with local councils to help regenerate the city centre. To be fair to Mr Grimsey he also calls for a review of the business rates, citing the fact that many small retailers are taxed at the highest Zone A level because of their central locality whilst some out of town stores can be taxed at the lowest bracket as they are cited as “warehouse” status. However do we really need to fund another level of political commissions, steering groups and policy pen pushers? We should be supporting shops and access for consumers, not creating more “talking shops”. Your thoughts, as ever, welcome!

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