BRADFORD’S high street is facing a critical few years if it is to fend off the rising threat of online shopping.
That’s according to local consumer expert Kate Hardcastle, who spent her childhood weekends visiting the city centre.
She said the key would be to make the most of Bradford’s distinctiveness and develop its ‘social retail’ offer as a place where people can shop, eat and play.
She said: “What is the brand of Bradford? What does it stand for and how do you start developing Bradford the brand?”
Ms Hardcastle, who has advised business clients around the globe, said places like America, Australia and Dubai “would kill for the history we have”, while attractions like the Alhambra Theatre, National Science and Media Museum and out-of-town Asian department stores like Bombay Stores all offered more reasons to visit.
She said: “I think Bradford’s got a winning hand in terms of things in the city centre.”
But she said everyone had to work together to offer visitors a cohesive experience.
Ms Hardcastle said online retail now represented a fifth of all shopping and would only grow in future, meaning traditional shopping areas would shrink.
She said: “We are not all 20 per cent richer – that money has to come from somewhere.
“That’s going to mean shrinkages on the high street.”
But she said there were still opportunities to create smaller, engaging city centres people wanted to visit.
She said: “People want experiences. They’re buying less material goods, which is another reason why shops are having to work even harder.
“So what can you do to be an Instagrammable moment? I hate that phrase – a few years ago we’d have been talking about MySpace – but what are you going to do to make it a memorable moment in that person’s life?”
Ms Hardcastle splits her time between West Yorkshire and London and for the past six years has carried out pro-bono work helping the region’s businesses, through tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire.
She said while she had some opinions about how to improve Bradford city centre, the key was to do as much research as possible into the opinions of people who lived, worked or might want to visit the city.
She said if people got fined for staying a minute over their parking time or strayed into a bus lane on their drive in, it would spoil their experience.
And she said events could attract people into the city but had to be “really unmissable”, as it was harmful to promise too much and deliver too little.
Ms Hardcastle, who grew up near Bradford, said she loved coming into the city centre each weekend with her grandparents as a child but had a shock when revisiting it in around 2009.
She said: “I was absolutely gobsmacked. This was pre-Broadway and it was really awful.”
Bradford had developed since then, she said, but like other high streets would face continued challenges in the years ahead.
Ms Hardcastle said many mid-market retailers were struggling and local leaders had to be ready with ideas for how to temporarily fill any big, vacant units if other chains went the way of BHS.