A TEAM of mystery shoppers and town centre assessors have given Sunderland’s independent retailers a big thumbs up, ranking them among the best in the country.
Thirty-five shops were checked-out by Skillsmart Retail for its Location Model research, with businesses scoring an average of 89.4 per cent – putting Sunderland sixth out of the 83 towns and cities tested so far.
Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “This is a great success for Sunderland. This is an important report and I think the excellent work of Sunderland’s independent shops is something which should be highlighted. Sunderland’s independent shops make a big contribution to the city. They have excellent customer service and offer something unique.”
Bryan Charlton, the senior councillor responsible for making Sunderland a more prosperous city, added: “Scoring above the benchmark of 80 per cent is a great achievement for Sunderland and confirms the city as an appealing shopping destination.
“I would particularly like to congratulate and thank our independent retailers, who produced outstanding mystery shopping results.
“We will now spend time looking at the recommendations to see how we can make the city’s shopping experience even better.”
Sunderland’s stores shone particularly in customer service, with 93 per cent of the mystery shopping visits being rated “good” or “very good”, and nearly nine out of ten – 89 per cent – of staff offering assistance to the mystery shopper.
The shops were also found to have good shop interiors – 91 per cent – and 88 per cent were said to have eye-catching exteriors.
The vast majority of mystery shoppers said they would return to the shop, and 90 per cent said they would recommend it to a friend.
The team also conducted more than 100 interviews to gauge the opinions of residents and visitors about the city.
More than 70 per cent of those interviewed said they felt generally safe, 61 per cent said the shops were conveniently located and 51 per cent said facilities were easy to find.
In terms of the retail make-up of the city centre, people agreed there was a good variety of national shops but said they would also like to see more independent shops.
The final part was a town centre assessment which found that the city’s public toilets were clean, there were plenty of bus stops and good signage to public buildings and car parks.
The report did highlight areas of improvement, particularly around car parking, the retail mix in the city centre and street litter.
Coun Trueman said these issues are being addressed, with a dedicated responsive local services team to target litter and an ongoing programme of work to improve the city centre, its infrastructure and to attract more retailers.
Jane Rexworthy, head of the National Skills Academy for Retail, said: “These are very encouraging results for Sunderland, which the city’s retailers should be very proud of.
“This report will help the city’s leaders plan how they will develop and promote Sunderland in the coming years.”