If you’re an independent furniture retailer nestled in a town centre, on a high street or somewhere similar, how easy is it for your customers to park?
With recent British Retail Consortium footfall data suggesting shoppers entering the high street fell by 13.6% in August, against a three-year-pre-Covid-19 comparison, are the cost of car parks continuing to deter consumers? Perhaps not entirely with the cost-of-living crisis upon the UK, but reduced fees to park might bring a fresh wave of shoppers back to the high street.
This debate has long been raised, discussed and sat on for numerous years it seems, with pre-Covid data highlighting the fact that the two main reasons shoppers avoided ‘popping into town’ was due to car park costs.
A study by takepayments.com, a payment solutions provider, found that independent businesses believed discounted car parks could reignite the high street.
They surveyed 500 SME owners across the UK before the second lockdown to reveal what councils could do to encourage people to visit the high street. Three quarters (75%) of local businesses argue that free or discounted council parking could entice shoppers back, while almost one in three (27%) believe expensive car parking is the reason many people won’t venture into the city or town.
Breaking this down further, 40% called for discounted parking, while 35% wished for free parking. Their research showed that almost two thirds (65%) of independent businesses want their local councils to enforce a weekday discount or free parking scheme. In addition, 12% of companies want a free parking scheme on the weekends. The consensus is that councils aren’t doing enough to accommodate high street shoppers and that car parks are significantly expensive.
More recently, over 120 retailers in Stafford, as an example, during August 2022 signed a petition for their local council to introduce free one-hour parking spaces to encourage more shoppers hitting the hight street. They even identified 84 potential spaces. The council is reviewing the petition.
So, what is the local parking scene like where your business is located?
With retail parks a prominent place for furniture retailers, mainly the multiples, car parking is a non-issue. But as for the independents that survive on footfall and attracting customers into their high street stores, many don’t have the luxury of their own private car park.
For independents, it can be tricky to provide a solution. We’ve thought of a few tips to try if you’re in a parking pickle.
- Stand up for your street – just like the movement in Stafford, make some noise alongside other retailers to try and find a solution to offer free parking for a period of time in your location.
- Instore promotion – if a customer commits to a purchase, why not offer to pay half their parking bill. Not only does it show customer service on another level, but it could encourage a shopper to visit your store with that little extra incentive. It might not be much coin to part with, but the gesture will go a long way.
- Ask for a discount – like cinemas or restaurants at some locations, if you watch a film or eat at a certain place, with your ticket or receipt you are able to get a discount on parking. Why not ask the question at who controls your nearby carpark to see if you can adopt a similar policy? Complete a purchase, the receipt allows for a discount on parking.
- Do your research – scout around the town for those 30-minute free-bays and highlight them on your contact page. Help shoppers find spots if they are planning a visit. Time will be critical but if they are accepting your help and are there to buy, it’s up to your sales team to make the most of the minutes available.
- Partner up – is there a business close by with a car park? Try to collaborate by giving their staff a discount at your store if you can use the car park for customers. It may be a stretch, but worth asking the question.
With the cost of car parks continuing to increase, there is an increased danger of high street footfall falling to new depths.
For some people, they have taken matters into their own hands and play the game of cat and mouse with parking attendant, risking a fine in the process. In fact, according to a Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, 3,333 fines were handed out to drivers for parking in Brentwood High Street, Essex, in the last year alone, the highest place for parking notices issued in the UK.
Is there a parking problem where you are?