THE main reason for under-25s visiting town centre’s is no longer to shop, but to eat, new research has discovered.

The findings from the Newcastle office of planning and development consultancy Lichfields highlights the fundamental changes taking place on our High Streets – now being magnified by the on-going restrictions imposed due to Covid-19.

Planner Katherine Simpson undertook the research in Newcastle city centre and found that 59% of the 16 to 25 age group came to the city centre to eat – while 45% came for non-food shopping.

She said: “It is now apparent that unlike previous generations today’s young people are looking for something different from a town centre experience.

“Whilst retailing remains important, younger people are less focused on visiting centres for shopping and have much more interest in visiting for other leisure uses, activities and events.”

As more retailing migrates to the internet the research found almost 40% those sampled prefer to do their shopping on-line, 17% will browse on-line and shop in-store, with around one-third preferring to browse and shop in-store.

The popularity of eating out is part of wider trend which is seeing town centres morph into service and leisure destinations.

The survey highlights the growth of the Health, Beauty and Wellbeing sector, which currently dominates the top 10 categories for physical retail growth.

Barber shops, for example,  exhibited very strong growth in 2019 – an additional 782 units nationwide – alongside Beauty Salons – an additional 473 outlets.

The research shows that for 10% of the young people a visit to the hairdressers or health and beauty bar is one of their top reasons for a trip to town.

The survey of 250, 16 to 25 year olds also demonstrated the younger generations attachment to social media as a source of local news.

Over 60% of the survey group obtained information about the city centre through Facebook and Instagram

The research notes that many on-line clothing retailers, such as ASOS and Pretty Little Thing, are responding to these trends by developing their own social media followings, using popular social influencers to endorse their offerings.

Ms Simpson, who is also Chair of the RTPI Young Planners Committee in the North East, added: “With COVID-19 having introduced a new tranche of customers to online retailing it is very likely that this significant shift in consumer behaviour.

“Our research shows that young people still like to visit town centres but are now looking for something more and it is essential that policy makers understand these trends in order to woo to the next generation of consumers.”