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Today retail expert Mary Portas has released a comprehensive report that deals with the health of Britain’s high street, advising the government on steps that should be taken to ensure its survival in the face of changing consumer behaviour.

In a press conference held at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) this morning, Portas said that, "Despite speculation this is not about surpressing other forms of retail."

Over the past week Portas has lent her weight to battling the suggested increase in West End parking fees for evenings and weekends, branding them ‘madness’.

The report dishes out a stark warning against this, while covering bus fare rates, year-round planning by shop owners and reassessing store vacancies. It includes 28 action points that can be implemented by government, local authorities and businesses to help high streets deliver something new.

At the press conference she also said that "communication, collaboration and compromise" were the three most important things to keep in mind.

But what of the link to e-commerce?  In her column in The Telegraph, published late last night, Portas gives the slightest of nods to the growth of shopping online.

The phenomenal growth of online retailing, the rise of shopping by mobile, the speed and sophistication of the major national and international retailers, the epic and immersive experiences offered by today’s new breed of shopping mall, combined with a crippling recession, have all conspired to change today’s retail landscape. New expectations have been created in terms of value, service, entertainment and experience against which the average high street has, in many cases, failed to deliver.”

If this is all about collaboration, where’s the advice on linking offline to online?

The report contains just three references to digital. The first, a book by De Kare Silver that explains that this is, “gradually ceasing to be a bricks and mortar world” but then goes on to discuss the creation of 21st century urban entertainment centres like Westfield. The second is a footnote to that quote.

The last shows more promise. Under the section about creating a ‘town team’, which she describes as a “visionary strategic and strong operational management structure for high streets”, Portas suggests that this could also be represented “virtually via a community digital portal facilitating a frank and creative exchange of views between stakeholders.”

An online portal would allow people to share information, volunteer for local schemes, including those who hold specialised knowledge, develop local delivery networks or simply access essential local services.  As such the Town Team meets in real time online to progress the daily and longer term needs and aspirations of their community.”

Knowledge sharing is a great idea, but where’s the advice on building your own website? Using social media? Integrating m-commerce? Perhaps Portas feels that baby steps are the answer, or that Britain’s high streets aren’t ready for this. Perhaps she isn’t confident enough in her own ability to comment in this area. 

Maybe we’ll see her launch a supplementary chapter to this in the coming months, but for the time being I’m left wondering why the government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox wasn’t involved in this? For all of the promise of a focus on creating "multi-functional social and shopping”, why wasn’t this report itself co-written or at least drafted with the input of experts in an obviously complimentary field?

As Anton Gething, co-founder and product director at social commerce company nToklo points out, it's just not as simple as finding a way for physical retail outlets to exist, but about better integration of all the customer engagement channels.  

While there is much discussion of the death of the high street in recent years, ultimately, people want to touch and see things and this is borne out by the growth of Apple’s retail outlets across the UK, for example. This Christmas has also seen eBay trial a physical store in central London and arguably most interesting is the House of Fraser store in Aberdeen that has no products, simply free coffee and assistants with iPads. There are still tough times ahead for many town centres across the UK and how the nut is cracked is not quite clear, but better integration between online and offline is a must if retailers are to succeed.”

The full report is available to download at both BIS’ website and Portas’ own.

Vikki Chowney

Published 13 December, 2011 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

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Paul Rayment

Nice article. Me, I can't stand the woman. This blog pretty much sums up most of the reasons http://ramblingsofapr.com/2011/05/17/mary-portas-queen-of-shopping-centres/

In a nutshell, she goes on about saving the High Street but her company advises the big brands she says she is against and her agency even works for Westfield. How can a woman with such a conflict of interest be presenting this crap?

Add her show in to the mix and she's a joke. Sure, she has a nice CV. Harvey Nics and all that. But in one of her shows she suggested Pilot spend a bucket load of cash pushing out sexy new changing rooms and mirrors you could tweet from. The guy wanted to trial it in one store but (because it makes better TV) she wanted him to push it out in every store!

Like GokWan she is just concerned about raising her own profile and the points raised in this article goes to show how misinformed she is.

almost 5 years ago

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Gabrielle Hase

Totally agree. What she doesn't seem to understand is that ecommerce and the digital opportunities to shop provides a fantastic opportunity for the high street to reinvent itself, in a positive way. Success online and in the bricks and mortar world are NOT mutually exclusive, and it never ceases to amaze me how much of the retail community doesn't understand that.

I commend a lot of what Mary says, and she clearly knows her stuff, but to blatantly ignore a huge element of consumer behaviour is very short-sighted and, quite frankly, surprising.

almost 5 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

Totally agree, her shows are on the mark and she's very smart, I just wish she'd have thought about joining the dots.

As I said above, she may well have done. Fingers crossed :)

almost 5 years ago

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Liz Hurley

Surprised that more hasn't be made of e-commerce. The high streets are drying up in large part because of e-commerse so it needs to be tackled head on. We have sold books online for 10 years, after year 2 we opened a small shop. We viewed it as a warehouse where the public could pop in and browse, collect orders made online or buy something. It's been a huge success. The two types of business can work hand in hand exceedingly well.

almost 5 years ago

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SEOsherlock

You can read the full High Street Review by Mary Portas here: http://t.co/QIWeKyjh

almost 5 years ago

Simon Francis

Simon Francis, Campaign & communications consultant at Claremont Communications

@Paul thanks for linking to my blog!

Agree with the analysis here - as I think many do - that there is very little new in the report and that it seems more like a publicity stunt for Portas and the Government than it is a real attempt to revive the high streets.

The point about needing to have involved Martha Lane-Fox is an excellent one. E-commerce should be able to help rejuvenate the high street, rather than be seen as part of the evil which is killing it (as other media are reporting today).

almost 5 years ago

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Nigel Wilson, Experian Marketing Services

The Portas Review has provided a range of solutions and ideas to help revive Britain’s high streets. Our submission to the review stressed the importance of retailers joining up their on and offline channels. For too long businesses have considered these competing channels, however our experience tells us that when retailers get this right it can drive footfall and revenues.

almost 5 years ago

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Chris Russell, Digital Marketing & Web Analyst at Chris Russell Digital Ltd

It sounds to me as if Portas' implicit brief here is "fill empty high street retail units" (14.3% currently empty), rather than "stimulate the retail sector".

Portas' background is that of a (very talented) window dresser, which means her M.O. is understandably creating attractive high street retail outlets, rather than engaging with the wider retail economy in order to generate revenue. The current re-invention of the wider economy means that no industry will look the same as it did prior to the recession.

So, of course there's no mention of social media or eCommerce; I hate to say it but Ms Portas represents the past, not the future of retail.

almost 5 years ago

Vikki Chowney

Vikki Chowney, Head of Social at TMW

Thanks for stopping by Nigel, I just heard that Experian contributed data to this...

I do think that there are strong points made in the recommendations, it just feels a bit lacking in terms of properly future-proofing retailers to changing consumer habits.

almost 5 years ago

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Kevin Smith

Overall good report, lacks ecommerce detail, but it does at least recommend town portals and utilising some multi-channel elements.

For those attacking Mary's connections with big brands and Westfield, if anything that's a benefit. The big brands and big malls know how to market effectively and provide a better shopping experience for their customers, the high street does need to learn from them and up their game to compete. I live very close to Westfield Stratford City and it has managed to offer something that the local high streets and malls hadn't come close to, unfortunately people want warm, convenient, well tenanted shopping areas, I rarely shop elsewhere locally now.

Previously the grotty old mall full of pound shops, the street markets selling poor quality tat, and proliferation of fast food shops and associated debris made it a chore to buy anything.

The high street is in trouble, but as the report sets out, it seems to be a fundamental lack of ability/will to respond to the larger mall based competitors.

almost 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

As I commented on another of our recent posts on this topic (see http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/8100-the-truth-about-the-death-of-the-high-street#blog_comment_74595) I was on an ITV program recently ("Death of the High Street") which also featured Mary Portas and whilst I tried to emphasise how the internet could bring life back to the High Street (via mobile largely) those bits got cut out!

The government should consult Econsultancy on such matters not Mary Portas ;)

Actually I thought Martha Lane-Fox's report "DIRECTGOV 2010 AND BEYOND: REVOLUTION NOT EVOLUTION" (see http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/directgov-2010-and-beyond-revolution-not-evolution) was very good and one of the few government reports around digital that made a lot of sense.

almost 5 years ago

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Jenni

I just skimmed the report and it didn't seem particularly inspired in and of itself. Just seemed like a mishmash of obvious ideas with vague ideas that the government might be able to implement in 10 years' time after it's gone through ridiculous amounts of red tape. Asking national/international retailers to help smaller ones is ridiculous on a lot of different levels. It would be best to have specially appointed groups made up of people who care about their community and know the local area well - who can suggest what will work in a given situation.

almost 5 years ago

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Charles Meaden

With 2011 being the year that a lot of major retailers started doing multi channel properly and using it to drive people back into stores, it seems strange she has completely ignored this.

Halfords and Argos are perhaps two good examples of retailers who are doing this well. We've covered this in our blog post - http://www.alwaysbetesting.co.uk/ecommerce/mary-portas-mistake-in-missing-out-multi-channel/

almost 5 years ago

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Steve Davies

Vicki, as I said on Twitter in response to your original tweet, you cannot take a single-channel view of retail (or any other industry for that matter) and you also cannot dictate to consumers where they should, or should not, shop.

Perhaps the nature of her recommendations were dictated by her brief from the government, or her own bias, but reading through her 28 points most of them were socio-political and had very little to do with commerce.

I heard a much smarter comment from one of the ex-Apprentice contestants on BBC Breakfast (yesterday, I think), who was suggesting that retailers should stop fighting the preferences of consumers (most who prefer to buy goods online) and start focusing on how the high-street could augment this with further location-specific benefits.

Her suggestion was services, which is something I remember focusing on more than a decade ago when we noticed a decline in high-street shopping for the mobile telecom companies. We decided that people preferred to shop for new handsets and tarrifs online, and the high-street was better suited to servicing repairs, replacements and face-to-face support to customers on how best to use their devices. We stopped measuring retails stores as a profit centre and instead used them as a multi-channel hub to help maximise usage of the network (which was a far more useful driver of revenue growth than device and handset sales). The rest as they say is history.

This Portas study has Quango written all over it, so I'm not surprised the published findings are incomplete or biased towards the physical high-street.

On another note, I am always very cynical of people who define themselves as a 'guru' or 'expert', those who are, rarely ever need to say so (it's obvious by the fact they are a constant reference point for others).

On her bio she describes herself as "..probably the UK’s foremost authority on retail and brand communication", which is rubbish - I know many more people better qualified for such acknowledgement. Her Wikipedia entry describes her as having "..a passion and talent for drama".

Good luck to her, she's doing a great job raising her own profile, but I see very little of what she's concluded as being valuable to individual retailers who must find solutions to their own commercial challenges, rather than crusade to save the high-street.

almost 5 years ago

Ivor Morgan

Ivor Morgan, Personal

In her report Portas, makes the point that one factor causing the decline of the High Street is the change in the way people shop; then she goes on to practically ignore one of those changes - the increasing influence that eCommerce and wireless technologies have on the customer journey.
Any attempt to revive the High Street that ignores that the role of the store in the shopping cycle has changed and will continue to change is doomed to fail. http://www.venda.com/blog/2011/12/portas-high-street-review/

almost 5 years ago

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