Experience - 25 'vital and viable' priorities

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. This resource introduces the 'Experience' priority - why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

What are the 25 vital and viable priorities?

Research from the Institute of Place Management at Manchester Metropolitan University has identified the Top 25 priorities that can influence high street vitality and viability. The framework was created by experts from a range of disciplines and other stakeholders to foster cross-disciplinary knowledge and broadening real-world understanding of the changing nature of the high street.

The 25 priorities are practically orientated and, given their ability to be controlled or influenced at a town level, are fairly internally focussed. For each of the priorities you will find an introduction to evidence that describes the priority, suggests what it covers, discusses how it might be implemented and the level of control associated with it.

Additionally, you will find suggestions of what the priority could mean for implementation during the COVID-19 recovery stage.

Factors included in Experience

Centre image; service quality; visitor satisfaction; familiarity; atmosphere


Experience Rank Score Descriptor
Influence 11th out of 25 4.04 out of 5 Highly Influential
Control 4th out of 25 3.64 out of 4 Potentially controllable
25 Priorities 4th out of 25 14.71 Very high priority


Experience refers to a person’s perception and sense of a place, and can comprise physical, cognitive and emotional attributes. Experience of a place can be related to a number of factors such as whether it feels welcoming, if it is a good place to spend time, overall customer service experience of retail premises, transport and public space, and environmental factors such as air quality, noise levels and lighting. These in turn determine the quality of the experience and visitor satisfaction.

Why does it matter? (Influence)

The experience people have of a location consists of a number of ‘moments of truth’. Every interaction with another customer or a member of staff in a store or service provider located in the place, any frustration around car-parking, even factors that you can’t possibly control, like the weather, impact upon the customer’s experience within a centre. Indeed, there is a range of experiential ‘touch points’ influencing customers’ perceptions of- and sensory experiences within- a centre, such as the capacity to socialise, the ‘buzz’ created by sales discounts and special events, and atmosphere (Wrigley and Lambiri, 2015). Today, consumers desire positive sensory consumption experiences, rather than just visiting a shopping centre for utilitarian purposes (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982).

What can you do about it? (Control)

Improving the perceived experience of a location is tricky, as there are so many factors that can impact upon it, whether positively or negatively, some of which are outside of your control. You should seek to identify commonly experienced negatives and prioritise them. Some will be common to all types of town; others relate more specifically to town types – e.g. comparison retail; multifunctional; holiday; or speciality.

Holiday Towns
Are busy in the summer and quiet in the winter. They focus on offering a good experience to visitors during the summer peak, rather than on their local catchment. They are attractive to tourists but have a relatively weak comparison offer.

Speciality Towns
Get busier after Easter, with the largest peak in footfall occurring in the summer, followed by a smaller peak before Christmas. Anchor(s) are not retail-based, offering something unique and special (e.g. heritage and culture). They attract visitors but serve local population.

Multifunctional Towns
Have a relatively flat footfall throughout the year with no noticeable peaks. The retail offer, opening times, events, services and other uses are focussed on the local community. They have convenience anchors, work, public transport, shopping, markets etc. They organise themselves to be reliable, community hubs.

Comparison Towns
Have a noticeable peak in footfall in the lead-up to Christmas. They have a wide range of retail choice, leisure, food and beverage, strong retail anchor(s), and presence of international brands. People travel a considerable distance to visit and they serve a wide catchment area.

When considering your footfall and type of visitor, there are a number of key experience questions. Do you think that visitors associate their overall experience a particular activity or signature type when they come to your centre? Does it feel local and friendly? Does it feel special? Does it feel like an important shopping centre? Does it feel like a holiday location? Does it feel important, from a civic and economic perspective? Is it possible to strengthen the experience through physical or behavioural changes? For example, could the signage be changed (or removed) to improve the heritage experience (speciality)? Could retail staff undergo some training to improve their communication skills (community/convenience)? For speciality and holiday towns, when are the monthly or weekly peaks that may mean additional staff need to be employed? Could some collective customer training be done?

Experience and COVID-19

During lockdown and the crisis stage, it is impossible to maintain the quality of visitor experience. However, even in crisis stage, some services have helped to ensure those who continue to spend time in the centre, either for exercise or to attend workplaces, are assured that it remains a safe, monitored, clean environment.

Entering the pre-recovery stage, it is possible to engage with the local authority, shopping centre managers, retailers and other businesses to develop a coherent plan for social distancing that is well designed, clearly signed, and supports public safety. This could be a key part of people’s experience for possibly months, or even longer.

In order to develop an understanding of the likely customer experience, it can be beneficial to draw on your knowledge of the future offer, likely gaps etc. Important issues to consider can include, if carefully designed, an events programme that can utilise empty shops, and public space that can be used to improve the experience where shopping is less of a draw.

Once lockdown is lifted and recovery commences, the ‘welcome back’ experience for visitors can become crucial. In this regard, it is especially important to think of social distancing and cleanliness and how this will be managed. Stakeholders can be involved in this management to enhance a collaborative approach that provides clear information and assures people as footfall gradually increases.

When entering the transformation stage, the centre could be regularly animated with street sellers, markets, small events, and festivals, walks and volunteer activity with focus on delivering great customer experience through stakeholder collaboration.

See also

Appearance; Attractiveness; Diversity; Recreational space; Retail offer


Holbrook, M. B., & Hirschman, E. C. (1982). The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feelings, and Fun. Journal of Consumer Research, 9(2), pp. 132 – 140. https://doi.org/10.1086/208906

Wrigley, N.& Lambiri, D. (2015). British High Streets: from Crisis to Recovery? A Comprehensive Review of the Evidence. Southampton; 2015. Available from: https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/30341672.pdf

Town types based upon Mumford, C., Parker, C., Ntounis, N., & Dargan, E. (2020). Footfall signatures and volumes: Towards a classification of UK centres. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/2399808320911412