New survey shows customer service essential to future of Cambridge high street

people standing on a stage with awards

A recent survey by Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID) can reveal that more than 91% of shoppers are likely to return to a local business if they receive good service, with 42% describing customer service as essential to their decision-making.

Cambridge BID surveyed 542 residents about their reasons for coming into Cambridge. While 74% of respondents shop in Cambridge at least once a month, more than 92% also shop online - with 78% doing so for gifts, 73% for clothing and 36% for groceries. Just under half use click and collect to pick up web purchases from businesses in Cambridge. In addition, some 65% of respondents visit the city at least once a month to dine in local restaurants and eateries.

“Although Cambridge regularly tops the ‘vibrant cities’ charts, online shopping remains an ongoing challenge: it’s available 24/7, it’s convenient and prices are highly competitive due to lower overheads. Every high street across the UK is trying to work out how best to adapt,” comments Ian Sandison, CEO of Cambridge BID.

“The truth is that local ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses simply cannot win if they try to compete solely against online criteria. However, web-based stores are impersonal. They can’t provide the personal service and attention to deal that is available on the high street. Our survey shows that excellent service, from staff who know their products and show genuine interest in helping their customers, will encourage the holy grail of repeat business.”

Cambridge BID has developed a comprehensive mystery shopping and training programme to help local businesses understand how to reach the top of their game when it comes to customer service. First established in 2013, the initiative now reaches over 150 businesses - from retailers to restaurants, accommodation providers and professional service firms. Each participating business takes part in two rounds of mystery shopping per year, in March/April and June/July, conducted by independent national market research company, Storecheckers.

In September, the results of the mystery shops are announced at a celebratory awards evening that recognises those organisations delivering the best and most improved customer service in Cambridge. All businesses are given bespoke feedback and a personalised report, together with the opportunity to sign up for specialist training courses the following Spring.

“Being mystery-shopped by Cambridge BID was great for us. The team relished the feedback and were very motivated by the positive comments about their customer service. Our high score gave us a great marketing opportunity and it also gives potential customers the confidence to buy from us,” commented Harriet Kelsall, Founder and Chair of Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery Design.

Harriet Kelsall was one of five Overall Winners to achieve the maximum score of 100% in their mystery shops in 2018, the other winners being Burr Bridal, Harriet Kelsall Bespoke Jewellery, Dr. Martens, Ernest Jones and the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology.

Cambridge businesses achieved an average score of 85% last year, higher than the national average of 81%, making it one of the top UK locations assessed by Storecheckers.

“It’s excellent to see Cambridge doing so well relative to other cities across the UK, but businesses know that they can’t afford to become complacent,” adds Ian.

Results of a business survey conducted by Cambridge BID this Spring emphasise some of the ongoing concerns locally, with 40% of businesses reporting that revenue was down on last year and just 38% showing turnover to be either level with or an increase on 2018 figures. Optimism is muted, with only 61% of businesses expecting trading to improve or stay the same this year.

Parking worries are almost ubiquitous, with 96% of respondents wishing to see a reduction in parking costs and 74% of these viewing this as a priority issue.

“While initiatives such as the Love Cambridge Gift Card can help to keep customer spend in the city, we’d also like to remind people to ‘shop local’ whenever they can. It’s a tough climate for Cambridge businesses at the moment,” comments Ian.

“Our mystery shop participants see it as a priority to put smiles on their customers’ faces, training staff to deliver excellent service and a great experience. We’re working together to ensure that, across the city, customers feel well looked after and valued – because we all want the high street to thrive long into the future.”


Cambridge Business Improvement District (BID) consists of 1,200 city centre businesses, working together to promote the city to visitors, residents and workers, while ensuring they experience a welcoming and vibrant street scene that is both clean and safe.

Cambridge BID Limited