How shoppers’ sense of safety may be jeopardising the town centre footfall
UK town centres are significant contributors to the economy. As in the early days, town centres in the UK have been trading hubs that create jobs for the inhabitants of the towns. Unfortunately, our town centres have been in turmoil for the past decade. Retail footfall is declining, vacancy rates are increasing and the towns look more haunted than ever…
The issue with UK town centre footfall has been an unsolved mystery until now. UK shoppers have abandoned their towns in search for shopping convenience. Despite the different attempts by academics, practitioners and retail gurus to find solutions to this problem, yet the issue pertains. Indeed, if you ask anyone who follows retail news to predict a news piece for the next month, they are more likely to suggest this:
“Footfall in High Streets Drops by X Percentage”
Before you continue reading this article, I want you to take a minute to think about justifications for this trend. The majority of us would attribute this problem mainly to the limited range of shops, convenience of online shopping, expensive parking – and some would blame the weather for it too! Whilst all of this is indeed true, we tend to turn a blind eye on some critical aspects of shopping in a town centre, such as public security.
Let’s think about it. Have you ever went shopping to a place, and few minutes after arriving there you felt uncomfortable and decided to walk away even though the shop you want is right there? And so you decide to go shopping to a different location and never go back there again? Some of us can relate to many incidents like this. Maslow’s hierarchy of need suggests that at basic level, humans value the need of safety and security. This in mind, we can understand our rational decision to walk away from a place once you feel unsafe. Even if the shop you are heading towards is the best in the business, the location might put you off from visiting.
Whilst investigating the issue of the town centre, many consumers attributed their decision to shop elsewhere because of the assortment of shops (and the eternal issue with parking). What was not expected was to learn how public security and haunted atmospheres pushed many shoppers away from the town centre, even when their favourite shops were right there! The discomfort from walking down empty paths and the negative vibe stimulated by looking at empty shops with no shoppers patronising the area created a negative shopping experience in the town centre. Further, the sense of emptiness stimulated the fear of burglary for some shoppers, which encouraged an ‘avoid’ behaviour by some shoppers to maintain their safety.
In the retail industry, the quality of product/service appears to be a factor of many, that can influence customer experience and retailers’ performance. Customer experience is the outcome of direct and indirect interactions with the retail environment. Hence, from our example, we learn how atmospheric cues of the town centre create an emotional and social experience for the consumer, which ultimately influence their future shopping intentions.
Whilst shoppers may perceive fulfilling their goals as the most important aspect of shopping, we have learned that people pay close attention to their surroundings too when shopping. It is therefore essential to maintain a lively atmospheric cue that stimulates a sense of safety and comfort for consumers to try and solve part of the issues encountered by our shoppers.
This Blog post was written by Majd AbedRabbo, a doctoral researcher in the SBE. Majd is a member of the Marketing and Retailing group as well as a member of the Town Centres research interest group and can be reached on M.AbedRabbo@lboro.ac.uk.