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News - 13 March 2006
Shopping by sustainable transport

Report says retailers underestimate the value of pedestrian shoppers

Do retailers overestimate the importance of car-borne trade? Are they failing to recognise the significant numbers of people who travel by foot, bike or public transport? A new study into retail vitality has challenged the perception that shoppers prefer to drive.

According to a study conducted by Sustrans, a leading sustainable transport charity, pedestrians are good news for local trade. Well they would say that wouldn’t they. After all they exist to promote sustainable transport.

But to give them a fair hearing it is important to read the report. ‘Shoppers and how they travel', highlights the importance of catering for pedestrians and bus passengers at local shops claiming that these customers are better for business.

Interestingly Sustrans' research found that retailers significantly overestimate how far their customers travel and the importance of the car, while underestimating how many shops each customer visits.

Retailers overestimated the importance of car-borne trade by almost 100%, believing that 41% of their customers arrived by car, whereas only 22% had done – actually over half of shoppers walked. National research on number of trips taken by mode of transport show that 61% of all journeys were made by car and just 1.5% by bike. However Sustrans' research revealed that in making local shopping trips only 22% were by car and 10% by bike (over six times the national cycling average).

This certainly explodes the myth that a car is essential if items are to be purchased and carried home comfortably. However, one could argue that this situation has come about because our town centres are becoming increasingly congested and more and more people have been forced to use alternative means of transport. They do it but they may not be very happy about it. It is also not good news for tourist towns or cities, like Brighton & Hove, that depend on visitor traffic – people who live too far away to walk or cycle.

The study found that almost half of the customers lived within one mile of the shops. And it questioned the viability of out of town shopping centres.

The findings show that the majority of customers are local. Retailers estimated that just 12% of customers lived within half a mile, and 40% more than two miles away. In reality, 42% had travelled less than half a mile and 86% had travelled less than two miles.

This again is not entirely good news for tourist towns that are looking to draw people from farther afield. It is all very well to appreciate the local shopper but for a town to thrive and grow it needs to attract new customers from outside the locality. If more and more people are choosing to shop locally then fewer are travelling to tourist centres to shop.

If Brighton traders are to learn anything from this study it is that there is growth potential from local shoppers but also if they want to ensure growth from outside the immediate catchment area the issues around sustainable transport need to be addressed. Park & Ride is one mechanism to deliver more visitors from farther afield and so is rail transport.

Finally, the report offers more good news regarding local shoppers, ‘These very good customers usually don't just visit one shop. Traders believed that as many as one in four shoppers would make just one visit but this figure was actually only 13%. They thought less than one in ten would visit more than three shops, remarkably, almost 30% did so.’

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