City centre will struggle if older shoppers continue to stay away, claims councillor

Shops and businesses in Leeds City Centre will find it “very difficult indeed” to get back up to speed if they fail to attract older shoppers in the coming weeks and months, according to a city councillor.

Friday, 26th June 2020, 4:45 pm

Conservative councillor Neil Buckley had warned that shoppers needed a better experience if they were going to come back into the city centre and give a much needed boost to the district’s retail economy.

The meeting also heard that the number of people going to shops had dropped off since rules for non-essential shops were relaxed earlier this month.

Coun Buckley told a meeting of Leeds City Council’s infrastructure scrutiny committee: “My wife and I went to have a look at town when it did reopen – and our experience was that there were queues outside places like Primark and JD Sports – there were lots of youngsters buying low costs items.

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Shoppers eagerly queuing to get into Primark when non-essential shops were reopened.

“The people who weren’t there were the middle aged with plenty of money, who bring proper turnover and profits into the centre.

“I just wondered what the thinking there was on when we can expect this footfall to go back to anything like normal levels?”

A council officer replied: “The trends that you describe are trends that have been seen internationally in terms of retail.

“There has been an initial flood back to the shops followed by a bit of a drop off because the experience customers have found when they have gone in hasn’t necessarily been the experience they are used to.

“Physical retail tends to outweigh internet sales for the experience side of it – in terms of being able to go into a shop and browse and enjoy having a coffee or something stronger while you’re shopping and spending a day doing that.

“Clearly there is a risk to retail and to the city centre while social distancing measures need to be in place. The emphasis would be on retailers themselves to ensure there is a quality experience and people want to go back.”

She added that many city centre businesses would be hamstrung by the number of workers normally based in the city centre instead working from home, as this would affect footfall during the week.

Coun Buckley responded: “Leeds has built itself into a great place to have just that kind of retail experience. Coffees, drinks, nice cafes, high end shops – if that doesn’t come back in a reasonable time, or the volume that does come back does not support all those businesses, it will be very, very difficult for the city indeed.”

Hundreds flocked to stores in Leeds on Monday, June 15 as shops reopened for the first time in three months.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced this week that other businesses, such as restaurants, pubs and hairdressers, could open with social distancing from July 4.