Declining shopper numbers prove the need to ‘innovate’

Weston High Street.

Weston High Street. - Credit: Archant

FREEZING cold, snow and rain have led to plunging numbers of shoppers in Weston town centre.

The number of people visiting the resort’s Sovereign Shopping Centre dropped 13 per cent year-on-year last month, due in part to some of the worst March weather in years.

The figure comes after the British Retail Consortium revealed a 5.2 per cent drop in footfall across the country during the month.

But the drop is indicative of a long-term trend, according to centre manager Nick Cooke.

He said that economic issues and a lack of consumer spending, as well as the knock-on effect of out-of-town retail parks, have all contributed to the figure.

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He said: “I would attribute some of it to the weather. The economic downturn, lack of consumer confidence and concerns of consumers are all factors, but the weather has certainly had an effect.

“Weston town centre generally has quite a good footfall, as does the Sovereign centre, so while 13 per cent looks of concern, it is not like the place is empty.

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“The number of customers we are getting in the town is still quite reasonable for a shopping centre of this size. However, we have seen a steady decline in the past five years.

“This March was particularly disappointing, which was down to the unseasonably cold weather.

“It is a growing trend but it is a trend across the country, perhaps particularly in the South West.”

Mr Cooke also said that factors such as out-of-town retail were contributing to longer term issues and that Weston needs to find more ways to innovate in the face of visitor decline.

He added: “I am concerned about the continued erosion of people leaving for out-of-town developments such as Flowerdown Retail Park and Cribbs Causeway.

“The continued support from the council for out-of-town development is a growing problem.

“We have to accept retail is evolving and the high street has to evolve with it. A lot of buildings in Weston High Street are Victorian - they are very narrow with three floors, and it is not what retailers want.

“We have to be innovative, we have to be creative and maybe try to do different things, find other uses for empty shops with destinations that people can come and spend in, like a gym.”

Town centre manager Steve Townsend also said the early Easter dates, coupled with the bad weather, hindered retailers.

He said: “Instead of having one big critical mass of people, everyone in North Somerset was off school one week earlier and went back one week earlier.

“That means visitors get diluted. Early Easters are always rubbish.”

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