London, Glasgow, and Manchester offer the best town centre shopping experience, according to research from retail consultancy Verdict.

The firm analysed more than 700 town centres using criteria such as affluence, vacancy rates and strength of retail offering.

Birmingham was found to have the fourth best town centre for shopping, followed by Leeds, Nottingham, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Norwich and Cardiff.

Verdict senior retail analyst Matt Piner said one of the “key” reasons for the success of a town centre is the diversity of its shops, explaining why cities such as Edinburgh and Norwich are in the top 10 at the expense of bigger places such as Liverpool, which came 13th.

Low vacancy rates also help keep retail space “highly concentrated” according to Piner, which encourages footfall and brings in big brands and multiples.

The report said while general retail has “suffered in recent years, sales in town centres have been worst hit”, with sales across the centres edging up just 0.2% in 2010 - the weakest uplift since 1999. 

Verdict predicts that town centres will “continue to lose market share” while other channels such as etail, out of town and convenience will grow.  In 2010 town centre retail was the only channel to lose market share, dropping from 43.3% in 2009 to 42.7%. In 2011 it will fall further to 42.2%.

Verdict said this is because town centres are generally geared towards shops that sell more discretionary items like books, music and clothes.  “Not only are consumers more likely to cut back on these when times are tough, but spend is also switching to online,” the report found.

Verdict predicts that town centres will “change dramatically”.  It points out that although town centres will grow sales by £5bn over the next four years, this “far underperforms” the £30.6bn growth expected from total retail.

As a result it expects retailers to “adapt” to this change and town centres to “focus on providing a more enjoyable, social experience for shoppers, with stores used to showcase products”.