By Ben Simmons

Whose responsibility is it to revive the high street? Should retailers make the effort to win consumers back, or should towns and city centres rely on local and central government initiatives to make it easier?

These are some of the issues a series of Retail Clinics touring Yorkshire want both retailers and shoppers to think about. The first session begins in Bradford on the 13 February. Led by Kate Hardcastle and a team of retail experts from Insight with Passion, the clinics will present information and research after a series of mystery shopper visits in each town. Retailers, shoppers and local residents have been providing feedback via social networking sites and email which will continue up to and after the events.

The Retail Clinics are being designed to help those who live buy, work on or shop in and around town centres to discuss the issues they feel they face, and how they might be able to work together to address problems, and praise success.

The ideas and strategy around Retail Theatre, a proposal and seminar developed by Insight with Passion that has been presented around the globe and at major retail industry trade events like INDEX in Dubai, will discuss how a store can be transformed to change shopping experience. Each event is free and is intended to start a discussion on town centre rejuvenation.

The tour comes —on the back of a pilot in Huddersfield last year. It has tapped into a lot of chatter about the high street including Mary Portas’ report on how its challenges can be faced and dealt with. This spring the government will make its official response to that.

Much of the focus in the news has been on the government and what local authorities should do like cutting red tape and examining local car-parking. While important these do not bring in what retailers can do themselves; improving customer service along with customer experience in store have an effect on whether a shopper will come back.

“There needs to be a long-term sea-change. These Retail Clinics will encourage retailers to talk to eachother, to discuss the problems affecting their town centres and high streets and work together to combat them,” says Kate Hardcastle.

One of the major issues is empty shops. The cost of empty units in the UK tops £900 million. The figure is calculated by analysing the lost wages of those who worked in the 14.3% shops that now lie empty in high streets up and down the UK. With an average wage of £12, 000, remove tax and NI contributions then multiply with the number of empty units in the UK, 286, 680, the figure is just under £900 million. Yorkshire has the highest figure of empty shops at around 16%.

The Retail Clinics want to hear from local shoppers, retailers, bloggers, residents and businesses who want to feed in to the debate about their town. Positive or negative, either in text or pictures the team is looking for feedback and ideas from people to define who they want their town centre and high street to move forward.

Retail Clinics begin in Bradford on 13th February. It then travels to Hull 16th February, Batley and Birstall 20th February, Leeds 27th February, Rotherham 1st March, Bingley 2nd April, Wakefield 12th April, Doncaster 16th April and finally Wetherby 19th April.

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