Understanding town types by footfall

Work by researchers at Cardiff and Manchester Metropolitan universities has confirmed that UK town and city centres can be classified into four types based on usage. The researchers analysed 12 years of footfall (pedestrian flow) data gathered by Springboard in over 100 centres, and using K-Means Clustering and other statistical tools were able to identify that centres can be classified into one of four types. This has particular relevance as traditional retail hierarchies become meaningless. The type of centre determines what are the most appropriate initiatives to be developed to ensure vitality and viability.

Comparison Shopping Town

The chart to the right shows changes in footfall from month to month across 13 months. Towns and cities which demonstrate this model are Comparison Shopping Towns. They have a strong retail offer, a wide range of shops, notable retail anchors and a large catchment area. They are accessible by a choice of means of transport and as the data shows, they attract Christmas shoppers over an extended period. These are centres people will travel over some distance to use. As a result, Comparison Shopping Towns organize themselves to compete with other higher order centres and channels.

Speciality Town

Speciality Towns offer something unique and distinctive. Their anchors are usually not retail but may be something historic or cultural. They serve not only local residents, though they do that well, but also visitors over much of the year. Their nature and offer encourages people to stay longer in them on each visit (dwell time). They have a strong enough shopping offer to draw in Christmas shoppers but they primarily organize themselves to protect and promote their identity and positioning.

Multifunctional Centre

There are many centres of this type, both large and small, serving a local or regional community. Their anchor maybe employment, education, leisure, public transport access, and/or shopping. They offer a convenient mix of goods and services and are easily accessible and locally connected. These types of centre organize themselves to manage accessibility, concentration, reliability and customer service. They seek to augment the convenience and localness of their offer through things such as click and collect. They may attract higher spend at Christmas but this does not significantly increase footfall.

Holiday Town

The Holiday town peak is in the summer months and they have no second peak in December. Holiday towns may well have anchors that are not in the centre itself, such as a beach or theme park. They attract visitors from a wide area but appear not to serve their local communities very well. Holiday towns need to be about maximising trading hours during the peak summer months, seeking to extend activity into shoulder months and exploring how they better serve their local communities out of season.