Retailers and wholesalers essential to keeping town centres vibrant. A good mix of shops, offering a wide variety of goods and services, are central to keeping town centres good places to visit and enjoy.
This was a central message of a conference “Retail & wholesale – Innovating to keep towns vibrant” organised by EuroCommerce.
Many, particularly mid-sized, towns are seeing shops struggling to survive, with a rapidly changing retail landscape, new regulatory burdens and the impact of the digital transformation in the way consumers buy. At the conference, businesses, local authorities and EU institutions shared their experience and best practice on how to keep town centres vital and attractive.
EuroCommerce Director-General Christian Verschueren said: “Retail and wholesale businesses make up a vital part of the local social and economic fabric of our towns, but many have been forced to close. The Commission’s recent communication on retail states clearly that overregulating our sector hampers competition, reduces consumer choice and increases costs. Addressing unnecessary barriers to doing business needs to be part of an all-embracing approach with local authorities. All stakeholders need to work together to revitalise town centres, looking at the basic infrastructure of the town and the impact of regulation. Retail and wholesale are already playing an active role in actions to equip towns to meet the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century, and stand ready to contribute to this work across Europe. ”
Tomasz Husak, Head of Cabinet of Commissioner Biekowska, said: “Retail is one of the biggest sectors in Europe. Over 3.6 million companies provide 9% of EU jobs. But the sector has been lagging behind in productivity in comparison with other business sectors. With the boom of multi-channel distribution, retail has the potential to perform better. Member States have a key role to play in addressing the challenges this sector faces on a local level, and need to use smart tools to create the business-friendly environment which will help create local growth and jobs. The Commission’s recent communication guides public authorities on how to best apply the EU rules. It also sets out best practices regarding retail establishment and daily operations which could be considered by Member States in their reforms towards a more competitive retail sector.”
The sector faces increasing local, national and EU rules, adding costs and making it difficult to do business, and disproportionate tax burdens which undermine competitiveness within the retail sector. High vacancy rates in retail property, in some towns up to 25%, create a vicious circle of decline, making towns and city centres unattractive to consumers, and a growing number of restraints on access and mobility to towns and city centres deter people from shopping in town.
In this context, EuroCommerce particularly welcomes the findings and recommendations set out in the Commission communication ‘A retail sector fit for the 21st century’, on removing unnecessary or disproportionate barriers to retail and wholesale. EuroCommerce will seek to work with the Commission to encourage innovative ideas for supporting the vitality of town centres, ask it to work with the sector on designing revitalisation projects and research to help towns meet these challenges, and making more funding available for these.