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Local retail dominates Harper Dennis Hobbs’ 2021 Vitality Ranking

At the last publication of Harper Dennis Hobbs’ (HDH) biennial Vitality Ranking in 2019, which ranks the UK’s most popular retail centres, the top five ranked destinations – Cambridge City Centre, Westfield London, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, and Bluewater – had retained their exact positions from the 2017 HDH review. In the 2021 review, however, these names have fallen completely out of the top 50.

This year, the retail locations found to be most vital as of February 2021 largely consisted of smaller, more accessible town centres situated close to large cities. The 2021 review’s top five most vital centres are: Beaconsfield, Henley-on-Thames, Tenterden, Wimbledon Village and Marlborough. Whilst the latter two featured in the top 10 in 2019, the top three locations, all in the South East, rose dramatically in the rankings by 63, 26, and 36 spots respectively.

2021 Rank Retail Centre Region 2019 Rank Change
1 Beaconsfield South East 64 63
2 Henley-on-Thames South East 28 26
3 Tenterden South East 39 36
4 Wimbledon Village Greater London Authority 7 3
5 Malborough South West 10 5
6 Sevenoaks South West 30 24
7 Kingston upon Thames Greater London Authority 20 13
8 Berkhamsted East of England 14 6
9 Harpenden East of England 139 130
10 Ilkley Yorkshire and The Humber 29 19

Whilst many of the top 50 were in the upper echelons of the 2019 Vitality Ranking, many of these centres have climbed 25 to 50 places as larger retail centres have fallen, the reason for their new positioning being that shopping patterns have become very localised. The high-scoring centres have all maintained relatively strong footfalls due to consumers remaining close to their homes for large parts of 2020, with fewer consumers taking trips into workplaces or going on holiday.

In order to determine the ‘vitality’ of centres across  the UK in 2021, a range of variables was assessed. HDH said that many of these are different from previous years to account for the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Factors of note included: the size of retail on offer, how much people spend, the proportion of ‘essential’ retail, vacancy rates, the presence of a department store, the presence of retailers who have launched CVAs, customer age demographics, and the suitability of the offer to the local population.

Leisure and hospitality also proved a major factor in this year’s results, as retail centres with a high proportion of large restaurants, bars and nightclubs suffered from major restrictions to trading. Simon Carson, head of leisure at HDH, commented: “It is important to note that the fundamental factors behind these areas’ success in previous years remain and we expect them to bounce back over the course of this year in line with restrictions being eased and consumer confidence rising.”

Discussing the results, head of retail consultancy at HDH, Andy Metherell, said that shopping patterns have changed significantly since the start of the pandemic, and consumers’ local high streets are benefitting at the expense of major destinations. The most vital retail centres are those which  provide offers that are literally vital to people’s lives, such as grocers, pharmacies and hardware stores.

“The COVID-19 outbreak and its associated restrictions have dramatically altered consumers’ priorities and shopping behaviour, whilst brands are considering the prosperity of the local consumers and their likely future co-tenants when selecting new sites,” he explained.

Looking ahead, Metherell said that everyone has a role to play, suggesting that town centres can work to revamp, by repurposing unproductive space to better align the retail offer with the needs of local shoppers, and converting excess retail to better use.

“The government also has a role to play, by revisiting the business rates issue to both modernise the way of assessing units and create a level playing field with retailers, which would add to their supportive actions, such as the job retention scheme, altering change-of-use rules and funding for high street improvements,” he added.

This story was originally published in Retail Destination Fortnightly

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