What is the Future for Retail, the High Street and Irish Towns and Cities?

What is this the future picture for cities and towns? This question was at the centre of the Association of Town and City Management’s recent conference in London.

In this blog we discuss the shifting shopping patterns that every town and city should prepare for.

There is No Place Like Town

Retail is changing, there is no question about that. Since Amazon launched its online shop in 1995, the disruption caused by ecommerce has happened at a rate and scale which few towns ever imagined, never mind prepared for.

Over the twentysomething years that followed, online growth has been exponential. More than half of all Irish consumers used e-platforms for at least some of their Christmas 2018 purchases. The impact was felt across An Post, which saw parcel deliveries increase by over 50% to more than 100,000 each day.

So retail is moving online and customers are following too. Why does it matter? It matters because our changing shopping patterns have knock-on impacts on the high street, thus shaping the look and feel of communities throughout Ireland.

Speaking in London, Jim McMahon, UK Shadow Minister for Local Government and Devolution, linked changing retail patterns and community feel to voter behaviour, using Brexit and the perception that high streets and identities are dying as an example. “If you can’t control places where people live, people will feel left down” he said.

Where is the footfall going?

Research from UK retail intelligence company Springboard found that the period between 2008-2018 saw a 20% drop in footfall on high streets. By 2028, it is expected that 48% of all non-food shopping will be online.

Yet, changing footfall has affected different sectors in different ways. Capture rates (the rate of people walking into a shop) for department stores has declined by 4.1% since 2015. At 6%, the drop for electrical shops and mobile stores has been even bigger. At the other end of the scale, entertainment and book shops have grown capture rates by 2.9% while food and convenience stores report a 1.2% growth rate in the same period.

Different times of day also attract differing volumes of potential customers. Interestingly, while day time footfall dropped by 1.1% in 2017, the same year saw an increase in evening time and night time visitor numbers.

These trends reflect a shift in attitudes among consumers. Due to the prevalence of online platforms, consumers have access to shopping 24/7. They no longer need the high street, town or a retail centre to satisfy their shopping needs. Instead, consumers are looking for experiences. Experiences that they cannot access online. For example, eating-out has seen double-digit rises with lunch now accounting for 34% of all eating-out spend. In effect, centres that rely on retail only have seen more dramatic footfall drops than those which provide a varied offering.

While this data may appear frightening, it also provides the insight needed for towns to buck the trend. And interestingly, this has been achieved by one-third of UK cities and towns which all have successfully grown footfall and visitor numbers. Because people want to spend; but not just their money, they want to spend their time.

An End to Clone Towns

Think about the proposition of places. Does it offer anything different? Does it give children, parents and families a reason to come to town?

The loss of independent shops and strong dominance of chain stores on UK high streets has been coined ‘clone towns’. Data from 2010 by the New Economics Foundation revealed that four in ten of UK towns had become clones, full of chain stores and devoid of local character.

Clone towns are the exact opposite to what most modern-day consumers are seeking. What does this tell us? We should promote all that makes us different, all that gives us a sense of place. The growing appetite for unique experiences creates a huge opportunity for independent shops, something which we in Cork are blessed to have, and which often is commented favourably upon by visitors Leeside.

We should also embrace diversity, creativity and be playful. The more diverse a place is, the more successful it is likely to be. Best practice suggests that a vibrant town centre should have an appropriate balance of office, retail, residential, food and high-quality public places – all linked with good pedestrian and public transport access. At the same time, it is also important not to forget children and teenagers. Just like their parents, they are looking for a reason to visit. For example, some UK towns have successfully trialled teenage markets, where teenage creatives are invited to come display their products – again offering something different.

A Sense of Place

Above all, we should invest in and improve public place. One example of a town which dared to think different and embrace its individuality is Altrincham. Located in the shadow of Trafford Centre, Altrincham was previously labelled Britain’s bleakest ghost town with one-third of shops empty.

However, after developing a new town centre strategy built around its historic central market, new business incentives, and significant investment in its public realm to improve the experience of pedestrians and dwell time, Altrincham last year won the UK High Street or the Year Award 2018.

The town now has a vacancy rate of only 9% and footfall has risen 5% to more than 1.7m annual visitors, in stark contrast to national trends.

A Change’s Gonna Come

So is retail on its last legs, as some commentators would like to suggest? Certainly not. Many cities are alive and kicking, with higher footfall than ever before. Thriving high streets in 2019 are those that entice people to visit a town and spend time there, rather than just spending their money.

While we have already seen our urban centres transform, change is our only constant. Within the next five years, Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2005, who have never known a world without internet, who grew up in the sharing economy, use voice tech, and who will soon have families of their own) will make up a large proportion of consumers and our work force.

Are our towns and cities prepared for them?



This blog piece was first posted as an analysis in the Irish Examiner. 

For more information on our public affairs activities click here.

photo cork city

Cork: The Best Place to do Business

With a proud reputation as a creative, innovative and vibrant city region, Cork continues to go from strength to strength, capturing the interest of those seeking to be part of a city region firmly focused on leading and innovating.

Project Ireland 2040

Project Ireland 2040 recognises Cork as Ireland’s second City region, with Cork set to take 20% of the expected national 1 million population growth. The City and region at large is changing at pace. We have new office spaces under development and in the pipeline, new housing and apartment developments and the ongoing implementation of the Cork City Centre Movement strategy which is proactively seeking to improve traffic movement. We have a quality of life and a quality of environment in Cork City that we would find hard to match elsewhere.

Cork is set to be the fastest growing city in Ireland over the next 20 years with the metropolitan population expected to hit half a million, and over the next three years our city centre will see more than 5,000 extra jobs across a range of sectors.

We Are Cork

Cork is the capital of the South of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland’s second largest city region and economic engine. It is a thriving and ever-expanding hub of economic, industrial, research and business development activities. Indeed, over the last 30 years, Cork has consistently attracted many of the world’s largest companies and is now home to global market leaders in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, ICT, cybersecurity, biotechnology, professional services and international financial services. It is no coincidence that such major corporations as Dell EMC, Pepsico, Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lily, Amazon, and Apple have chosen Cork as their European base to their worldwide operations.

Just as importantly, Cork has also succeeded in thriving from within with the growth of indigenous homegrown businesses such as, Ballymaloe and Musgraves. This entrepreneurial spirit has undoubtedly added to the unique flavour and ‘can do’ attitude of the region.

photo business networking

Cork has the track record

With a population of over half a million, Cork is a strong performing region across a range of indicators. It is a complementary growth region to the overheating Dublin centred growth on the East Coast.

It is widely recognised that based on its natural advantages such as scale, availability of natural resources and critical mass, Cork has the strongest and most immediate possibilities as a growth centre.

Cork has the skilled graduates

It is a dynamic, research orientated University City with a third level student population in excess of 40,000 students ensuring an influx of highly skilled and highly educated graduates to the jobs market each year.

Cork offers world class higher education institutions, with Cork Institute of Technology recognised as a world leader with a first class reputation for fostering a culture of innovation. University College Cork is recognised internationally for its scientific excellence and its world class research teams and as a result is the best funded research universities in Ireland.

Cork has the Research and Development

Cork possesses world renowned research institutes with:

  • Tyndall National Research Institute focusing on photonics, electronics, materials, nanotechnologies and ICT.
  • the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre pioneering the disciplines of gastrointestinal health.
  • Moorepark Dairy and Food Research Centre is one of the world’s leading research centres specialising in pasture based systems of milk production.
  • MaREI, the marine and renewable energy research, development and innovation centre.
  • The NIMBUS Centre for Research in Networked Embedded Systems, based in Cork Institute of Technology, is Ireland’s only research centre devoted to the field of embedded electronic systems and,
  • The Rubicon Centre, Ireland’s premier Business Incubation Centre established to assist the formation and growth of early stage, knowledge intensive businesses.

There is no doubt that the technologies, services and systems developed through the work of these dedicated centres will be pivotal in shaping future progress.

Cork has the infrastructure

Cork has the connections both nationally and internationally ensuring it’s positioning as a key influence in the economic growth and diversity of the island of Ireland. With an international airport, large sheltered deep-water port facility, Cork enjoys direct access to the US and over 50 European destinations. With principal hubs such as London, Boston, Amsterdam and Paris making it strategic and convenient.

Our road and rail connections enable travel between Dublin and Cork in less than two and a half hours, with the M20 Cork to Limerick motorway redevelopment getting the green light most recently, bringing Ireland’s second and third City closer than ever.

Cork has the entrepreneurs and the innovation culture

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Irish people is highlighted time and again as a trait that impresses our global counterparts and Cork has recognised this potential. Cork Innovates was established in 2011 offering guidance to support entrepreneurs on all services available in the region, and is driven to ‘offer entrepreneurs globally and locally the best environment to start, grow and stay their business successfully’.

What’s more Cork has established and growing clusters in ICT, pharma, life-sciences, cyber security, energy, marine, agri-food, and financial services.

Cork has the digital connectivity  

From a digital connectivity perspective, the Metropolitan Cork area boasts vital high capacity Tier 1 Express fibre connectivity. This offers the lowest latency in the EU to the East Coast of the US, connecting Cork with vital digital and financial markets in the US and UK.

Our digital infrastructure enables the Cork area making it ready to attract, accommodate and grow Ireland’s national capacity for next generation digital and financial companies.

Cork has the natural resources

Cork has leapt forward in its approach to harnessing the potential of its abundant natural resources with the potential of natural gas, hydroelectric, onshore wind, biomass, geothermal and solar energy.

In 2018, EirGrid announced Cork as the likely location for a new subsea cable connecting Ireland directly to mainland Europe. This will enable the ability to import and export 700 megawatts (MW) of electricity, the equivalent of supplying power to around 450,000 homes. Energy security is what is needed for the future, and the best route to this is via supply diversification.

Considering the agricultural, food and drinks sector, Cork has naturally rich resources including dairy, beef, fish, shellfish, artisan foods, brewing and distilling. Cork is home to the gourmet capital of Kinsale, the English market, Ballymaloe, Ireland’s only seafood development centre, Jameson distillery, Musgraves and Dairygold, to name but a few.

Cork has the lifestyle

It is not by chance that Cork is the second most visited domestic tourism destination in Ireland after Dublin, consistently ranking within Ireland’s top three international tourism destinations. Cork has a rich cultural heritage and is home to two of the top ten most visited tourism attractions in Ireland, Fota Wildlife Park and Blarney Castle, as well as being the gateway to the Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Cork offers an attractive quality of life

The Cork City region is compact and free from urban sprawl with mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches and the spectacular Atlantic coastline just a short drive from the city.

photo city street bicycles

Come and see for yourself

And so, the doors are open and the scene is set.

We invite you to learn more about the region of Cork and what it can offer to you and to the future growth of your business.

We look forward to meeting you.