Oct 28, 2022
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Pandemic effect lingers as smaller towns lead latest Vitality Rankings

Oct 28, 2022

Retail may be on a recovery trajectory after the pandemic, but the current cost-of-living crisis is still impacting the sector and there are other issues affecting the way retail is developing today.

Photo: Pixabay/Public domain

That’s according to the Vitality Rankings from strategic retail property consultancy, Harper Dennis Hobbs. It has released a mid-year ranking for the first time ever and it shows traditional retail hotspots lagging (although starting to catch up) as smaller commuter towns are “still benefiting from a shift in shopping habits and the introduction of remote working”.

The rankings have been compiled from a list of 1,000 retail centres with the top 20 being dominated by towns such as Beaconsfield, which topped the list.

The list is based on the health of high streets and shopping centres and while small towns are strong, larger centres are also recovering, as shown by places like Kingston-Upon-Thames, York, and Chester moving up the list during this year.

HDH’s Vitality Rankings determine the health of high streets and shopping centres by analysing a number of factors, including vacancy rates, residents’ movement and suitability to local consumer demand. 

Many of the UK’s bigger retail centres, including large towns, city centres and regional shopping malls, have seen the health of traditional retail centres bouncing back over the past 18 months, following the impact of the pandemic in 2020, even though they still have some way to go.

As well as the trio mentioned above, Bath, Oxford and Exeter also climbed the rankings in the top 50.

But as we said, smaller commuter towns still dominate. Locations such as Beaconsfield and Henley-on-Thames have risen sharply since 2019, benefitting from consumers’ shift to local high streets.

Other towns in the top 20 include Wimbledon Village, Tenterden, Sevenoaks, Skipton, Reigate, Harpenden, Farnham, Berkhamsted, Ilkley, Ringwood, Harrogate, Cobham, Beverley and Brighton Central.

Andy Metherell, Head of Consultancy and Analytics at HDH, explained that the rankings are starting to reflect the mix of hybrid working and the return to normality following pandemic restrictions He said: “We are starting to see larger centres rise in the rankings as shoppers return to city centres and regional malls. But with hybrid working now such a common working model, small and affluent commuter towns are still benefiting from that change in behaviour. Therefore these areas continue to populate the top of the rankings.

We have also seen seaside towns and other domestic tourist hotspots maintain their places in the top 50, with Brits visiting these locations over the summer. So, it’s no surprise that they’re doing well.”

But the company is predicting some possible changes to the list it will release in January 2023. Metherell added: We are beginning to see the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on spending levels and consumer confidence. We may not see the full impact of inflation, rising interest rates, rising energy bills and a squeeze on household income until Vitality Rankings 2023. This is expected to have an impact on all areas, but especially some of those that are less affluent.”

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