Shoppers Splash out in Cities, but Small Towns' Time May Come Again

Article excerpt

Byline: By PAUL ROWLAND Western Mail

The pulling power of Wales' three cities is revealed today, where customers spend a staggering pounds 4.37bn at the shops. More money was spent last year in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport than the next 25 towns put together, with Cardiff alone raking in nearly 300 times more cash than nearby Barry.

Welsh shoppers forked out more than pounds 8.3bn in non-food retail outlets last year, of which just under pounds 2.5bn was spent in the capital.

This compares with just pounds 8.4m in Barry, which finished bottom of the league table, produced by property consultants King Sturge.

The research takes into account:

The total number of people who shop in the town or city;

The potential number of shoppers in a catchment area defined by factors including distance, drive-time and competing attractions;

The penetration of the shops - how many available customers in the catchment area actually shop in the town;

The total cash spent in the town or centre, and

The average amount spent per person.

According to the research, Cardiff attracts around 650,000 shoppers every year, who on average spend nearly pounds 3,813 each during their shopping trips over the course of 12 months.

And with the pounds 535m St David's 2 development scheduled to open in 2009, the city looks set to stretch its lead over its retail competitors.

Paul Williams, Cardiff's city centre manager, believes the capital's success is derived from offering customers the complete package for the day out at the shops, with shoppers appreciating the choice available in the city.

But the confidence in the unfailing appeal to customers of major cities like Cardiff may be misplaced, according to Paul Young, head of retail at King Sturge in Cardiff, who insisted the flood of high street retailers into major cities could eventually turn shoppers off, and drive them back to more localised facilities.

He said, 'It's a double-edged sword. 'Bigger towns will get bigger because more of the national multiples, like Next, are going to come in and gain more representation, because there's simply more space. While these multiples keep on coming in, there's an argument to say that all major towns will start to become androgynous clones of each other and shoppers will start to get bored, and they'll revert back to the small towns, where smaller retailers have more chance to get in.'

Mr Young said smaller towns needed to focus on their ability to serve their communities and retain loyal consumers, rather than try to win back the shoppers who had already defected to the southern cities.

He said, 'In my view, the weekly shop has to be the priority. It's a bit short-sighted for councillors in these small towns to try to take on bigger towns, because there will only be one winner.

'The bigger towns will keep getting bigger in the foreseeable future, and at face value that will not be good news for the small towns. But if you look closely, it will be good for them because it will put them on their mettle and inevitably lead to them improving their retail offer.

'It's a challenge for the whole retail market in Wales - there's a very delicate balance in these small market towns between retaining their shoppers and retaining their character, because so much of the expenditure is seasonally-based.'

Mr Williams said smaller towns would struggle to compete with what Cardiff could offer customers. He said, 'There's more choice and availability, simply because of the size of the city and the size and variety of the shops.

'Customers in Cardiff are always guaranteed to find something different from their local offering. …