The e-Resilience of British Retail Centres

Lead Research Organisation: University of Liverpool
Department Name: Geography and Planning


Despite actions following the Portas Review (Portas 2011), it is clear that UK retailing remains in crisis. This is most obviously manifest in the unprecedented vacancy rates of retail premises that have arisen following the onset of the longest economic downturn since the 1930s (at least). Within Great Britain, estimates of vacancy rates stand at 14.2% (LDC, 2013), although this national figure masks very considerable local variation. For example, between the Government Office Regions of England, rates vary from a low of 7.5% (London) through to 17.5% (North West); with some town centre vacancy rates as high as 34% (Morecambe West End: LDC, 2013). There is increasing evidence that the effects of local economic conditions upon conventional retailing are being compounded by the emergence and consolidation of different forms of e-commerce - which is estimated to have accounted for nearly half of all retail sales growth in the UK between 2003 and 2010 (Javelin Group, 2011) - and the emergence of m-commerce (using mobile technologies).

This proposal builds upon successful research that was concluded as part of the ESRC e-Society Programme in 2005, however, since this work was completed, the use of the Internet has grown from 60% to 73%, and more significantly, the percentage of users with access to broadband has increased from 31% to 71% (ONS 2010) - with consequences for adoption of new and increasingly media rich user experiences. Over the same period the availability of wireless broadband (3G or WiFi) has increased and its costs have fallen, while new generation mobile handsets (often with geolocation functionality) have been widely adopted (Haklay et al 2008).

The project involves an innovative collaboration with the Local Data Company (LDC) who collect numerous unique data on the composition and health of British retailing. The project concerns the measurement of "e-Resilience" in relation to retail catchment areas. We define retail e-Resilience in terms of the extent to which retail centres are exposed to consumers who are heavily engaged with information and communication technologies, and the virtual retail channels that these enable. As such, there are three main strands to this research:

(a) to create conventional catchment areas of British retail centres;
(b) to measure engagement with information and communication technologies at a small area level and create a summary "e-Resilience" measure for the conventional catchments;
(c) to conduct sensitivity analysis on retail centre catchments and their e-Resilience.

Outputs from the project will include a series of derived datasets, that can be used to give shape to the funded portfolio of KEO and KTP projects within the Retail Programme including: A nationwide classification of e-Resilience at the LSOA level; a nationwide database of conventional catchments for retail centres, built using the best available data on retail structure and vacant units; and, a nationwide database of retail centre catchments that takes into account e-Resilience and current structure and vacancy rates.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

This project is of substantial policy relevance to a variety of key stakeholders looking at the impact of online channels on the changing geography of British retailing. The relevance of the research outputs are not however limited to retail stakeholders, as outside of the retail domain, the e-Resilience classification will be of benefit to the community of users looking at understanding the contemporary geography of use and engagement with the internet - this is especially pertinent given the 'online first' policy for public services. A by no means comprehensive list of those stakeholders who we would envisage this project to be of benefit include: local retailers / associations; local authorities, regional bodies such as local enterprise partnerships, national retail bodies / groups and commercial organisations with links to retail such as planners, marketers and location consultancies. The data more generally would also be of benefit to those involved in location aware retail applications and blended online-offline commerce.

How will they benefit from this research?

The model output from this research has a wide range of benefits. For example, within the ESRC theme 'Economic Performance and Sustainable Growth', retailers would be provided with better intelligence about their potential exposure to competition from online retailing. As such, this would enable them to formulate a better market response, for example, adopting various forms of omni-commerce. Furthermore, scenarios could be explored, such as the impact of the closure of retail businesses, and what effect this might have on the extent of catchment areas and the e-Resilience within these zones.

Specific deliverables which would be of relevance to a wider [non academic] community include:

Policy facing website - will include dissemination of software / code and results
LDC Report: e-Resilience and the British Highstreet
R software package enabling the development of retail catchment areas within R
The e-Resilience classification for Lower Layer Super Output Areas
Retail area catchments


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Description This research has developed "e-resilience" as a framework for assessing the extent to which retail centres have spatially differentiated vulnerability to the impacts of online consumption.

This extends the conceptual model of resilience as applied to retail, and is operationalised through a novel methodology that develops two indices which balance both supply and demand influences.

Data outputs from this research include a composite e-resilience indicator for retail centres, retail catchment estimation software alongside a set of modelled catchment areas and the Internet User Classification - a purpose specific national geodemographic.

Findings suggest a geographic polarising effect, with retail centres showing the least vulnerability mapping onto those larger and more attractive centres or smaller local destinations with a focus on convenience shopping. Mid-sized centres were typically shown to be the most exposed, and are argued as having a less clearly defined function in contemporary retail. Such findings have wide policy relevance to stakeholders of retail interested in the future configuration of sustainable and resilient provision.
Exploitation Route This research has created a series of policy orientated data deliverables that are available through the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre data portal ( We envisage that this portal will get heavy use by local authorities and other stakeholders in retail. Secondly, the project partners Local Data Company have integrated the outputs into their service portal, and thus are available to a range of their clients.
Sectors Retail

Description The research has been featured in the ESRC Britain in 2016 Magazine and has generated a variety of interesting KE opportunities. The classification integral to this work has been utilised within a national retailer. A meeting has also been held at the ONS with regards to this being of utility in the planning of the census.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Retail
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Invited talk: Transformative Research in Geographic Information Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact As part of a panel session, this talk stimulated debate around the merits of open geographic information science.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Invited talk: What is so Big about Big Data? Some Observations on Open Data and Systems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact Very lively debate after the talk around definitions of big data

After the talk, we had further discussion about the appropriate use of the term Atlas V Map Book.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Invited talk: e-Resilience and Retail 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact There was much interest after the talk (numerous questions) about how the research will progress into useable indicators of exposure to populations more likely to engage with retail online over the highstreet.

Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014