Looking for more variety in town centre

TODAY is a time of great transition in the retail trade as the internet, rates, price wars and cheap imports combine to make shopkeeping a difficult business.

By Tracey Sparling

TODAY is a time of great transition in the retail trade as the internet, rates, price wars and cheap imports combine to make shopkeeping a difficult business. As we launch 'We're Backing Ipswich,' to support local retailers, features editor TRACEY SPARLING investigates the variety on offer.

THE best and the worst streets of Ipswich stand poles apart - but all are united in their quest to make a flourishing town centre.

Our shops range from the glamour of St Nicholas' Street's ladies' boutiques, to Upper Orwell Street still working to break free of a downtrodden image - but both have shops closed.

We spotted 100 shops currently closed, the town centre so our new We're Backing Ipswich campaign aims to help those less fortunate, while celebrating the best - and most Ipswich streets host shining examples of flourishing businesses.

This issue facing Ipswich is not just about the numbers of shops open or closed, but variety too.

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While Tavern Street is thriving, it now hosts six mobile phone shops - including five national chains in a row - at a time when there is a growing concern to support traditional independent businesses and promote variety.

Ian Clarke, a professor at Lancaster University Management School who has spent the last four years researching the decline in independent shops, claims that while nearly 40 small shops are closing each week in the UK, this rate of closure is nothing new.

“What is new is the recognition that the growth of supermarkets has played a key part in this rate of closure of small independent shops,” he said. “We were taken aback by the level of interest in our work, which seems to have struck a chord. Consumer satisfaction with store choice varies significantly at the local level, and choice really matters to them. They want variety of provision, not just multiple stores of the same supermarket chains.”

2007 was forecast to be a tough year for UK retail, according to the Centre for Retail Research based in Nottingham which said spending would suffer. It's latest report cited rising interest rates, higher supply prices, and house prices as factors hitting the trade, and said: “

Basically, shops, whether high street or out-of-town, are boring, unstimulating, and unexciting. Retailing is efficient but not very wonderful and some of the most innovative things are now broadband connections, You Tube, home automation, software, song and film downloads, and a mobile-phone centred life.

“People are negative, they have low expectations of the future, their view of their long-term net income is low.”

John Dugmore, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce said: “While on the face of it there are 100 vacated premises, Ipswich is going through a renaissance and I think we are going to see a change over a short period.

“Ipswich town centre has much going for it, with independent retailers - I'm thinking of Tacket Street and St Nicholas Street. The problem is Ipswich doesn't have a traditional layout like Norwich or Brighton so the independents are spread over a wider area.”

He added that two independent surveys by CACI and Experion showed Ipswich had an average or below average number of empty shops.

Mr Dugmore said: “In actual fact Ipswich is outperforming many other retail centres in terms of revenue” and said a lot was being done to improve the area.

He added: “Things look promising.”


Which shops would you like to see in town? Tell us how you are supporting your local shop, write to

Your Letters, the evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.

At least 25 corner shops are closing down in the UK every week, and almost one in six independent convenience stores, have gone in the last three years.

Source: The Institute of Grocery Distribution.

Despite years of breakneck growth, there is no sign that the internet shopping boom is set to end - and £30 billion of our retail spending is now online.

In 2006, online retail spending grew almost 13 times faster than the retail sector overall, to a record £10.9bn and pushed the sector's share of total retail spending to 4pc.

Electricals, the largest online sector achieved the fastest growth rate in 2006, to account for 11.6pc of all spending on electricals.

As shoppers have become more confident with using the internet and retailers' reputations for reliable deliveries have improved, so too has the average annual spend per shopper which reached £606 in 2006.

Source: e-Retail 2007, a report by Verdict Research