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Bill Grimsey, who we interviewed on this blog, presented his Alternative Future for the High Street review to ministers and business leaders at parliament yesterday.

I've been taking a closer look at the review, and its recommendations on the 'Networked High Street' in particular. 

While the web is clearly a factor in the travails of high street retailers, there are other issues, such as rates and the general state of the economy. 

So how can technology help? 

The report's recommendations

The report has 31 recommendations, including: 

  • Accept that there is already too much retail space in the UK and that bricks and mortar retailing can no longer be the anchor to create thriving high streets and town centres.
  • Set an objective to repopulate high streets and town centres as community hubs encompassing: more housing, education, arts, entertainment, business/office space, health and leisure and some shops.
  • Prepare for a ‘wired town’ vision or ‘networked high streets’ that puts libraries and other public spaces at the centre of each community based on the technology that exists today and will develop in the future.
  • Establish a ‘Digital Maturity Demographic Profile’ for each town to prepare for ‘networked high streets’ and tailor connection and communicationstrategies accordingly.
  • Reintroduce immediately the 2015 business rates revaluation to realign property values and freeze business rates from 2014.
  • The business rates system needs a root and branch review to establish a flexible system that will reflect changes in economic conditions as they occur.
  • Make it easier for motorists to shop by building in a two hour free high street and town centre carparking system to the overall business plan for the location.

The digital high street

We were critical of the Portas Review as it seemed to completely neglect the part that digital had to play in the high street, so I welcome the fact that this review seems to understand not only the threat posed by the internet, but also the opportunities it provides. 

The report presents a vision of a 'networked high street', explained here: 

Each player is a node in our high street, but at the moment they are operating independently, rather than as a network. They may be using a web page to hold information in an archive-like manner, but they are not responding in real-time to their consumers and other nodes.

We can describe them as an analogue formation, where there is no real-time communication between different retailers and between services. Local government is not connected to shops and key agencies are not linked up to what is happening on the high street.

Facebook, if used for a retailer or service, is not integrated into any real-time high street Daily Deals or Daily Events calendar, and no integrated online marketing is used on a day-to-day basis. 

To strengthen the high street, we need to increase the number of mutual connections between the nodes or network participants (retail, services, local government, job centres and all others). The more mutual connections, the more adaptive the high street network becomes in response to changes in the success of individuals shops and services.

In other words, the report calls for free and reliable public wi-fi in town centres which will enable shops and local businesses to inform and target users when they access it. 

I have supported the use of wi-fi by retailers and other businesses, and it certainly makes sense to have that reliability of connection, which makes it easier for mobile users to find stores, places to eat, films to see and so on. 

I also think there is much potential in targeting mobile users with offers and deals while they're out in the high street, presumably in purchase mode. 

However, since many retailers are now offering wi-fi in stores, it's possible that some will see free public wi-fi as a threat, as it potentially removes people from their own networks where they can own customers. 

The report presents three scenarios, including that of a busy mum who checks in to high street wi-fi, this activating her 'all-categories high street loyalty card'. Through this, she can be shown daily deals, book appointments, and view prices and offers from retailers. 

Other scenarios are presented, including the use of this network to communicate travel information, and the use of social to ask for advice on a new dress, or share photos with friends, something which tech like Tweet mirrors allows. 

The point is that, since people are using this tech anyway, whether through mobile internet or retailers' own wi-fi, the high street needs to adapt to this and use it to its advantage wherever possible. 

I can see that such a network would benefit those smaller businesses who perhaps lack the resources and time to create their own mobile sites, and by connecting to this shared network they could promote their product and services. 

In addition, if shoppers could rely on steady internet access, then high street businesses would have more incentive to update and maintain their Google+ Local listings and those on sites like Yelp. 

As Google uses this information to serve up local and mobile search results, the importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. 

In summary

While it may not be the whole answer - crippling business rates alone are responsible for many failures - the use of technology on the high street is here to stay, and businesses need to adapt to that. 

This review further supports Econsultancy's own research on How The Internet Can Save The High Street, which we published last year as a kind of antidote to the Portas study.

After all, people are using their smartphones as a shopping aid already, and this is an upward trend. 

A recent Econsultancy/Toluna survey found that more than 57% of smartphone users had searched for information on their devices while shopping. 

What type of information or service have you searched for on your smartphone while in-store?

I do wonder whether, given the fact that the current government has thrown its support behind the Portas Review (partially at least), this report will get the attention it deserves from politicians. 

However, for its understanding of the issues affecting the high street, and the role that the internet has to play, the review should be applauded. 

Whether the networked high streets idea is adopted or not (and it's certainly something which has potential), retailers and other high street businesses do need to use the web and mobile technology to their advantage. 

While tweet mirrors, interactive displays and video screens used by retailers like Burberry and M&S can be expensive, there are plenty of ways retailers can use the web without it costing the earth. 

For instance, a simple mobile site, or optimising listings on Google+ Local will provide them with greater visibility for mobile searchers, and an advantage over local competitors. 

Graham Charlton

Published 5 September, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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nick pearce

Great approach. Some sense at last. If the symbiotic relationship of physical and virtual retail experience can be integrated and harmonised, the digital opportunity could be the saviour of the high street. We all appreciate the benefits of both in our retail behaviour when executed well on and offline, so to join them up effectively is surely the only way to go.

about 3 years ago

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Nick Nathanail

A Refreshing Read with Some Great Ideas! - Some digital and some just common sense. If our High Streets are to flourish they need integrated plans reflecting consumers’ changing lifestyle preferences and evolving behaviour, as well attractive business rates to make retailers’ financial investment viable.
It is vital to embrace how consumers will be become ever more reliant on our digital devices; mobiles, smart watches with ever useful 'local' focussed software. Digital in years to come could be cited as the start of the High Street Renaissance. Let’s hope Central and Local Government support this thinking !

about 3 years ago

Peter  Bradley

Peter Bradley, Head of Digital at Digital Media Managers

Have to say we at DMM and Graham seem to be singing off the same hymn sheet we did a blog post about Bedford " a Portas town" and featured Mary's somewhat misguided thoughts about digital and high street businesses. We forwarded the blog to her for comment; you can see it hear http://goo.gl/vmM103. Not a peep from her or her team.

about 3 years ago

Mike Tate

Mike Tate, Interim Ecommerce Manager at Kongo Industries

I hope the report gets the attention from politicians that it deserves, but it should also be seen by digital / ecommerce agencies as a wonderful opportunity to approach local government and retail groups to create training workshops for retailers. I used this approach when living in Australia and the agency I worked for presented to various councils and their retailers, and then worked with individual stores to increase their knowledge and skills.

It is important that politicians are getting the message from both specialists in the e-commerce field and knowledgeable retailers as it will create urgency. There has to be buy-in from retailers, and for this to happen they must have a level of e-commerce savviness, especially small stores who are the most vulnerable yet stand to make the most out of these projects. Politicians and local councils will undoubtedly drag their heels in embracing technology unless the end beneficiary (the retailer) has an understanding and holds them accountable for implementation.

If the retailers don't comprehend what they stand to gain and it is just left to politicians then this will probably become another Mary Portas Report where there is a lot of shrugging of shoulders.

about 3 years ago

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Bruno BERTHEZENE

Being interested by this high street issue, I read so far articles mentioning the price disadvantage vs etailers, the parking difficulties or the cost of commercial real estate as the main reasons for the decline of the high street and the shift of consumers towards ecommerce.

It had surprised me that no article was mentioning the fact that, as the consumer is more and more beginning its search for purchase information through the digital services (Web, mobile and now tablet), it was key that the shops, whether independent ones or large retailer stores, took advantage of this by being visible in the search results and, once clicked on, having the right set of functionalites to convert the digital visitor in an in-store purchaser.

So I was happy to read that article that was emphasizing the importance of the digital for saving the high street.

Without making that comment too much of a commercial pitch, I thought it was interesting to share that the company I work for, Solocal Group (http://www.solocalgroup.com/en ) has this vision to help local retailers taking advantage the most advantage of the digital influence on in-store sales.

Here are some examples of the in-store traffic generation solutions in the company:
- Horyzon Media (http://www.horyzon-media.com/en/ ), a display saleshouse with offerings oriented towards in- store traffic generation through location and intention-based targeting (eg. after the user has typed “Nike London” in a local search engine, he gets retargeted with campaigns which message is about Nike products or competing brands in London), display formats oriented towards local promotion and traffic generation-oriented landing pages including a store locator and incorporating many calls to action to get the user going to the store)
- Leadformance (http://www.leadformance.com), a company that operates store locators that are present in 120 retailers’ websites with not only a state of the art platform (with conversion-oriented functionalities to make sure the user will effectively go to the shop, such as product inventory, promotions, click&collect…) but also a strong SEO to get the user’s attention through presence in top search results (traffic of the store locator is on average multiplied by 10 twelve months after implementation of the Leadformance platform). See a short video describing the platform here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4BXAMbFw6w
- Timendo (http://www.timendo.com/en ), a solution for appointments scheduling on Internet used by 4000 independent shops or brands/chains with nearly 20 million appointments generated to date and a promise of ROI due to the reduction of the no-show rate (users receive reminders before the appointments) by 5 times, with the final impact of an increase of 8% for sales

No science fiction there, these solutions work and allow the high street shops to fight with the same arms as the ecommerce pure players.

Thanks for reading and happy to discuss :)

about 3 years ago

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Anu

really nice design like it. visit my blog for more news
http://wwwbloggtech.com

about 3 years ago

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