With much said about the demise the of the high street, retailers in Bournemouth have been voicing concerns about the challenges ahead.

Whether a large department store or small independent retailer, their criticisms are surprisingly similar.

Lack of strategy and investment is an issue, according Alan Rowett, proprietor of the Vault record shop on Old Christchurch Road, and Beales chief executive Tony Brown.

Mr Rowett who also has Christchurch store, said “The retail landscape is changing all the time. In both locations the loss of shops and the number of empty units is presenting a run down and desolate feel.

“When we first moved into Christchurch there were plenty of different shops offering a good variety and mix, but this is deteriorating, and it seems as though every time a shop closes it becomes a coffee shop or a bar.

“Without the range it stops becoming a destination that attracts people in to town, and it starts a downward spiral.

“In Bournemouth we have a row of eight or nine empty shops nearby but nothing to direct shoppers to where stores are still trading. On a recent visit to Cambridge we thought the signposts were excellent.”

Lack of connectivity and clear vision about how the town centre areas link together is totally missing, according to Beales’ Tony Brown, with Mr Rowett agreeing lack of directional signage affects footfall to some areas.

Mr Brown says: “We have department stores in 23 towns across the country, each facing a different set of challenges.

“I genuinely don’t believe that Bournemouth council does nearly enough toward having a detailed and coherent strategy, they need to accept that we have more than just the beach and the nighttime economy.

“As a resort or destination if we ignore retail, Bournemouth, like some other seaside towns, will wither on the vine.

“We operate in Great Yarmouth, where the council has an impressive town centre master plan encompassing all commercial elements and is a proper vision for improving commercial development.

“Bournemouth Council could do well to consult with them and emulate their approach.”

Business rates and associated business costs also need a radical shake up according to both traders.

Mr Rowett said: “MP’s should take a national view on business rates which are punitive for all high street retailers, and landlords should take a more progressive approach about affordable, flexible leases.

“We now also pay a BID levy, and from what I can see their focus is to spend this money on events in specific areas, such as the Square, the Triangle and the Lansdowne.

“We seem to be the part that the town forgot.”

Mr Brown agreed, adding, “The Winter Wonderland was a great attraction, but it did absolutely nothing for retailers.

“I pay over £500,000 per year in rates and get zero back. A lot of this money is spent on vanity projects and consultants.

“I’d like to see a much more cohesive approach towards getting retail back in focus, supported by an investment strategy, with all stakeholders working together instead of nebulous token gestures.”

On the positive side, both businessmen believe consumers still want to visit shops for experiences that online shopping can’t fulfil.

Mr Brown’s focus at Beales is on experiential shopping. He says: “The challenge for any retailer large or small is footfall.

“We need to provide consumers with the chance to buy an experience rather than just a product or service and the paradigm needs to change in order to achieve this.

“Data shows 60 per cent of online shopping last year was done from mobile devices, that’s shopping on the move, but people still want to enjoy the social element of shopping, the instore interaction and the experience.”

To attract shoppers, Beales conducts consumer research which influences buying and pricing strategies.

Mr Brown said: “Understanding the shopper profile is crucial to the success of our business.

“In some parts of the country we sell more value end products and here in Bournemouth and Poole it’s a good mix of higher end and value end.

“Our buyers are focussed on good value for money and invariably we will match or beat online prices for the same products.”

He added, “There are still many things that consumers don’t want to buy online, and indeed services you can’t get online such as a beauty makeover, brow shape or lingerie fitting.

“It’s back to the experience again, and here in Beales our sales advisors are always available to assist customers.

“We’ve also expanded our coffee shops and opened a Prosecco bar turning a shopping trip into a social event.”

Trade at The Vault is not really affected by online competition. Mr Rowett said: “We are all about the experience.

“We have a growing customer base which includes hard core music fans who have always loved vinyl, to those now returning to the LP and re-purchasing their record collection, and the younger generation who are discovering vinyl.

“Students love the experience of coming into the store, browsing, listening and seeing the artwork on album covers.

“We have a niche market and offer a product and service where people will search us out then drop into one of our stores. No online competitor can offer that.”