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Our shopping survey results revealed amid concern for health of high street trade in Cambridge


By Gemma Gardner


Amid concern over the health of the high street, a Cambridge Independent survey has shown the city's independents remain highly valued by shoppers.

The survey also shows more people are shopping online than they did three years ago, and there is concern surrounding the high rents stores are paying in the city centre.

We launched our online poll after reporting data from the Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID), which showed footfall in key city streets was 4.9 per cent down in December 2018 compared to the previous year.

Now, we reveal the full results and analyse the responses.

The results of the Cambridge Independent's shopping survey (6802088)
The results of the Cambridge Independent's shopping survey (6802088)

Meanwhile, Vanessa Burkitt, MD of jeweller Catherine Jones of Cambridge, has urged shoppers to shop local and visit the city's independent businesses to help them survive amid a tough climate of online competition, high parking charges and Brexit uncertainty.

"We do what multiples can’t do and we love being here for you," she wrote in a column for the Cambridge Independent.

Some 44 per cent of the 208 respondents to complete the survey said they did their Christmas shopping through a mixture of online and in store, with 31 per cent admitting to only spending online.

“I like the variety of shopping online but resent paying delivery charges. I quite often order online from M&S, John Lewis, Argos and Debenhams online and then collect in store,” said one participant, who added: “Also, a more imaginative use of shop space [could help the high street], as book shops such Heffers and Waterstones have done in order to survive, attempting to provide something extra, to make a more enjoyable shopping experience.”

Despite this more than two thirds of respondents said that they were shopping online more than three years ago.

While online shopping is one of the factors behind the turbulent time on the high street, respondents to the survey also felt that high rents and the cost of parking were also key.

Amid this challenging high street environment, two outlets have already closed this month - Strada in Trinity Street and Steamer Trading Cookshop in Market Hill - and Ecco Shoes in Green Street is set to shut its doors too. Last week, Patisserie Valerie, which has stores in Fitzroy Street and Bridge Street, announced it was in administration.

Traders say changing consumer behaviour prompted by online competitors, who typically do not face the same rents and overheads, is a key factor, with parking prices, congested streets and Brexit also blamed.

The survey shows that there also seems to be a general understanding that there can no longer be an over-reliance in the retail sector on chain stores and multiples, and that independent businesses are critical to the survival of the high street.

The survey also showed support for the market (6795925)
The survey also showed support for the market (6795925)

“High street shops have to offer something that online doesn’t. It needs to be a better experience than online shopping. Something that makes it worth the bother and cost of going into town,” said one respondent.

Another added: “We need more independent shops. For now, I buy most presents and general things for the house on Etsy so that I know that I’m supporting small, British business.”

While one said: “More independent shops in the centre would be nice...I spent most of my Christmas shopping money at Kettle’s Yard, Inner Sanctum Collectibles and Heffers.

The survey also highlighted the importance of price (58%) and quality (80%) of goods when shoppers are determining where people shop, as well as the range of shops (54%).

Some of the most interesting results surround the issue of traffic in the town

The cost of parking in the city centre, with 61 per cent of readers saying it is not a major factor in deciding where they shop, neither is the ease of parking (41%) but should the parking prices go up some 65 per cent of people would be put off from shopping in Cambridge.

“Lower parking fees, more public transport at lower prices,” said one respondent, while another added: “Make the city centre more cycle friendly...currently the city centre is pretty easy to cycle into, but quite difficult to get around one there - some more dedicated cycle paths and parking would be good.”

The council is currently consulting local businesses, employers, residents, car park users and other interested parties on proposals for its off-street parking policy for 2019-20.

The proposals aim to reduce congestion, improve air quality and maintain value for money for customers while encouraging drivers to use Park & Ride, guided bus, train, car clubs and cycling facilities, rather than city centre multi-storey car parks.

It is consulting on plans for an additional charge for vehicles parking between the times of 11am and 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays and an increase at pay and display car parks, formally adopting the weekday peak time congestion tariff that was introduced as a trial in April 2018. This will start evening tariffs at 7pm rather than 6pm.

There are also looking at increased charges for season ticket parking for business users in line with the retail price index (RPI).

Another respondent said they were now actively avoiding Cambridge for shopping but supported moves to drive traffic away: “It is a mixture of traffic and parking prices that put me off Cambridge, plus lack of good independents, so many cannot afford to stay open. So all those things would need changing to bring me back to Cambridge specifically.

“I think making the city as unattractive to drivers as possible has done a lot of damage, it’s just so inconvenient, expensive and a pain coming in - not worth it. Sadly, I actively avoid it now, only coming in if I really have to and sticking to Westfield for big shops, Saffron Walden for independents of online.”

The Greater Cambridge Partnership and the Combined Authority are also seeking to provide alternatives to cars for people travelling into the centre.

Yet, our survey shows that public transport access (22%) is not important to people when deciding where to shop.

Ian Sandison, CEO of Cambridge BID, said: “We’re pleased, though not surprised, to see how much Cambridge shoppers value our independent retailers, with 47% of respondents describing them as their favourite type of shopping destination.

“We enjoy a strong mix of independents and national chains in Cambridge. This diversity and range of shops in one destination is what 54% of respondents stated was important in attracting them to visit the high street - when, as the survey shows, people’s shopping habits are changing and online retail is driving an increasing proportion of sales.

“We note too that the current cost of parking does not seem to be a major factor in determining where 61% of respondents choose to shop but, in the light of the council’s recent consultation on parking charges, it is concerning that 65% of shoppers feel that raising parking prices would put them off shopping in Cambridge.”

The survey also showed support for the market, especially the Sunday instalment, and there was criticism for the lack of public seating in the city centre.



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