Britain’s ‘experience economy’ will favour animated city centres over Amazon

This year's Christmas lights in Leeds
This year's Christmas lights in Leeds
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ONLINE GIANTS such as Amazon might win sales in the retail sector, but there is no replacement for experience in the battle for consumer spending.

Andrew Cooper, chief executive of the Leeds Business Improvement District and the man in charge of raising standards in the city centre, said Britain has become an “experience economy”.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “People in the Eighties wanted fast cars and tangible stuff. Now it is about experience. People want the selfie and the picture and they want to share it on social media. That markets your place in itself.

“If there is something to experience and that is joined up and communicated well, people will not only come back but they will tell other people and that will make us compete against your Amazons of this world because you cannot get that online.”

Colleague Karen Butler, head of place management and delivery at Leeds BID, said: “Christmas is a brilliant example of that. It is a key trading period so we have to make sure animation is key in delivering that campaign and then we shout about it loudly.”

This year marks the first time that Leeds has had a national advertising campaign to promote the various attractions, activities and events as well as shopping opportunities. The BID is investing £125,000 in the Magical Leeds campaign.

The five-year project began in April and has the backing of 953 members. With a budget of £2.4m, it is the third largest BID out of 220 in the UK.

Representatives from the nine northern BIDs met for the first time last week to discuss greater collaboration between cities including Liverpool, Manchester, York, Sheffield, Hull, Sunderland and Newcastle, mirroring the political efforts to create a Northern Powerhouse.

Mr Cooper said: “People these days are a lot more mobile and a lot of the surveys that each of these cities recognise that people are cross pollinating.

“Therefore promoting the cities as a collective, that this is a great place to come in the North of England, is a stronger message than trying to fight between us. There are economies of scale and commonalities of issue.”

The BID’s priorities are to raise standards, increase profile and add value. Projects include a new artwork at the train station to provide a stronger and more colourful entry to the city and an ambassador scheme, which will see uniformed officials providing a friendly welcome not just to tourists but also business travellers.

The project also wants to see cleaner streets and is looking at how it can work with members to increase the amount of recycling of commercial waste in the city centre.

Mr Cooper said businesses want to see a return on their investment - they pay a 1.25 per cent of their rates into the project - and he is very pleased with the amount of in-kind support offered to the BID.

“Leeds has a really warm heart. I have been really amazed at that,” said Mr Cooper, who has a decade’s experience in city and town centre management after starting his career at Boots.

Past experience revitalising retail centres in Bath and Stratford have taught him the value of collaborative working.

He said: “Peter Hendy, the former transport commission for London who lived in the place I used to work, said in the absence of having the money you have to create the partnerships. But ultimately through the BID you have got that partnership and you have some money and there is a need for people to collaborate and work together.”

He wants to make more noise about the retail offering in Leeds. Mr Cooper said: “It is premier league. You have Trinity, you have Victoria Quarter, you have six or seven shopping centres in the city.

“You then think Meadowhall is expanding, York is getting a BID, Hull has got a BID, Sheffield has just got a BID.

“Our potential competitor cities will quite happily take our trade away if we don’t compete about great our retail offer is.”

He is already looking ahead to next year’s festive season. He said: “We need to get people around the table and say what does Christmas 2016 look like?”