Mid-sized shopping centres on the high street are particularly vulnerable to online shopping, suggests analysis from the Consumer Data Research Centre.

This summer, the ESRC Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC) will release a new indicator on internet use in the UK, shedding light on our online shopping habits like never before. CDRC researchers have classified every neighbourhood in England according to how those who live there use the internet for consumer purposes – collecting data about people's education, employment, use of information technologies (such as tablets, apps and smartphones) and local availability of broadband.

Internet user data can be viewed visually on maps detailing a specific area, town or the whole country. Views can reveal, for example, lower levels of online shopping in coastal areas popular with retirees, heavy online traffic among professionals and students in cities, or lack of internet use in rural areas constrained by poor broadband infrastructure.

The Internet User Classification (IUC) project started back in 2014. It combines over 70 variables from usage surveys and lifestyle data, combined with national census data and details about local broadband connectivity. The IUC project aims to help in activities, such as profiling the characteristics of customer databases, targeted marketing campaigns, and strategic planning and policy delivery of, for example, a proposed retail development or sustainable planning.

CDRC researchers are currently updating the IUC with a wealth of new data gathered from traditional and online retailers, aiming for a new release this summer. The new classification will also include an update of CDRC's index of 'retail centre exposure to online shoppers'. This is known as 'e-resilience' and can give an indication of the impact of online sales on high-street shops and shopping centres.

The index has been accessed by planners and developers as it can provide an indication of where smaller retail units might succeed in an area where, for example, people shop locally in preference to buying their groceries and goods online.

"Our e-resilience measure shows a polarising shift that’s happening to traditional retail centres, and these changes are likely to deepen in the future unless there's intervention from the sector," says Professor Alex Singleton, Deputy Director of CDRC.

"The size of a retail centre is not a key factor; the most resilient centres are identified as either the larger and more attractive destinations, or smaller local centres with greater focus on convenience stores. However, the outlook is far gloomier for many mid-sized shopping centres with little to distinguish them from their counterparts elsewhere. Their exposure to changes in the way people shop is much greater."

CDRC aims to use its findings to help address a wide range of social and environmental challenges. This can include improving transport planning, studying the latest ethical consumer buying trends, or identifying ways to encourage people to lead more healthy and active lifestyles. The centre is committed to economic growth by making consumer data available to researchers and helping consumer organisations realise their potential for innovation. For security and confidentially reasons, data access comes in three categories: publicly available; restricted access; and available to accredited researchers in person only.