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Enchanted evening of retail therapy

Primarks Princes Street store is showing the way with doors open to shoppers until 8pm. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Primarks Princes Street store is showing the way with doors open to shoppers until 8pm. Picture: Ian Rutherford

  • by ANDY NEAL
 

Edinburgh outlets are finding that late night shopping has a place for both visitors and residents in the Capital, says Andy Neal

Groucho Marx famously quipped “I’ve had a wonderful evening – but this wasn’t it!”

He had a point. For most of us, our evenings are precious – a time to spend relaxing with friends and family. So we all tend to ensure we do the things in the evenings that we look forward to and that we enjoy. That’s why the latest footfall figures for Edinburgh city centre show an interesting and encouraging trend. More and more of us are choosing to spend our evenings enjoying all that the centre of our wonderful capital has to offer. Whether it is browsing in the city centre’s varied shops or enjoying good food and drink – our desire to be at the heart of the city is very much on the up.

The figures show that footfall growth in the evenings is far outstripping that during the day.

To be precise, they show the following:

• In December, footfall in the city centre rose by 7.1 per cent during the daytime – and by 11.1 per cent in the evenings

• January saw a 2.3 per cent daytime rise – but an 11.3 per cent evening bounce

• In February the daytime figure increased just 0.9 per cent – compared with 3.5 per cent in the evenings

Research carried out over the Christmas period showed us that shops being open late, and customers knowing it, are the most important thing in encouraging shoppers to use the shops in the evening. These came ahead of transport and parking initiatives although they can play a part. Modern retail and hospitality businesses are all about meeting the evolving needs of their customers. And there is no doubt that this approach is paying off.

Although Edinburgh is not yet at the stage where we are able to promote a blanket offering, as some major cities do, it is definitely getting there. The vast majority of our major retailers on Princes Street are now open until 7pm. Primark is open later, till 8pm.

Although it varies by store, season and day of the week, between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of the daily takings can now come after 5pm. The proof of the pudding…

Again, this was reflected over the Christmas period when most of the retailers in the Business Improvement District were open late, and did well with evenings making a major contribution in this key trading period.

It’s why we at Essential Edinburgh will continue to work with our partners, such as City of Edinburgh Council and Marketing Edinburgh, to work with retailers on creating a consistent late-opening offering to help drive footfall in the increasingly important evening economy.

This doesn’t just benefit the shops. It links with the great bars and restaurants we have, and all of the attractions. Out of town shopping malls are important and have their place in the retail mix, but they can’t compete with the ambience and experience offered by the city centre.

Our research shows that those creating this footfall are both tourists, and those staying after work. There is even more opportunity if we can get more of those from around Edinburgh to come in for the evening – and the This Is Edinburgh campaign being run by Marketing Edinburgh, Essential Edinburgh and City of Edinburgh Council will help us do this.

This would mean more attractions opening later on more occasions as well as more shops joining in. This all has very real benefits. The evening economy is a vital and significant element in a healthy city centre.

It provides employment, makes the city centre more attractive to visitors and residents, and is an integral part of the cultural and social offering of Edinburgh. A city centre that is open later and more often is seen as vibrant and exciting.

Conversely, not travelling further down this road would be to ignore the wishes of consumers. Research shows that people want to be able to shop into the evening, and research in York, for example, showed that the city was missing out significantly on customer spending through its lack (at that time) of a co-ordinated late-night opening offering.

Let’s be clear – we aren’t talking about the night-time economy. We are talking about the development of a cohesive and consistent offering to ensure our city centre is vibrant, lively and busy between the hours of 5pm and 8pm.

If we can achieve that – and we are getting there – we will see more jobs, more opportunities, more fun … and fewer Grouchos.

• Andy Neal is chief executive of Essential Edinburgh

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