(content provided by EuroCommerce) Retail plays a crucial role in making city centres vibrant and attractive places for people to come and shop and enjoy themselves. This requires however that cities adapt to changing consumers' needs.
Everyone must cooperate
The digital revolution and changes in consumer demography and behaviour is bringing about a major transformation in the retail sector. This is in turn, affecting city centres, with high vacancy rates in many cities and villages, as people switch purchases they used to buy in physical stores, and other structural changes impact where people shop. This needs retailers, but also local authorities to find creative and innovative ways to keep life, businesses, and enjoyment in city centres.
Retailers, experts, senior Commission officials and representatives of cities as well as keynote speaker Anneleen van Bossuyt MEP came together last week in Brussels to share their ideas and experience. Revitalisation of city centres can go badly wrong if all relevant stakeholders do not cooperate, and do not focus on consumers’ expectations, Professor Jesse Weltevreden of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, told at the EuroCommerce event. Cities and stakeholders invest a lot in social media, while consumers actually are looking for a simple website with clear information about what is available in the city centre. What consumers look for is cheap and plentiful parking, a good range of retail offerings and fewer empty shops, coupled with a variety of entertainment and other events. Joost van Keulen, Acting Mayor of Groningen, explained how his city did this, creating flexibility for entrepreneurs to experiment, offering seed funding, organising events and investing in public spaces.
Christian Verschueren, EuroCommerce Director-General, added: “Cities grew up throughout history as places where people traded, and city centres and retail are inseparably connected. Cities need to create the right conditions for retailers to thrive. At a time when our sector faces real challenges, we need mayors and local authorities to make it easier to open or expand shops, and reduce burdens which can make it difficult to keep them open. City centres must be accessible for deliveries and for consumers, and legislators need to take care to providing equal conditions for selling offline and online.”