High streets could make billions of pounds in additional revenue and increase footfall by making more of the latest digital technology available to small shopkeepers, a new report by industry leaders has found.
The Digital High Street Report 2020 found that local businesses and independent traders are missing a trick by not keeping up with the digitally savvy modern shopper and using more free and low cost digital technologies.
The independent report – initiated by government and the Future High Streets Forum - proposes the creation of a new high street ‘laboratory’ which would provide a one-stop-shop where small shopkeepers, businesses and communities can get advice on what they need to do to get digital.
A number of other recommendations have been made that could support town centres to be more thriving places people want to visit, work and shop in by the report’s author.
John Walden, chief executive of Home Retail Group, which owns Argos, and Future High Streets Forum member has made proposals that include:
- the first UK High Street Digital Health Index, an interactive benchmark to assess the digital health of towns and councils across key measures including infrastructure, basic digital skills, high street attraction and digital engagement
- plans for town centre infrastructure and connectivity for 2020 and beyond, including broadband, mobile and WiFi
- a High Street Digital Laboratory to provide ready to use digital tools, dedicated digital skills training, as well as a network of digital apprenticeships for every UK town centre
- a goal to eliminate the gap in basic digital skills by 2020 for individuals, small businesses and charities
High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt welcomed the report and said the laboratory could be invaluable in continuing the reinvigoration of shopping streets and help small businesses make the most of their potential.
It has potential to help them expand their reach and drive people to the high street and help them compete with big businesses and is an idea worth looking at more closely.
Independent experts will now be appointed to advise on how the ‘Digital Laboratory’ and the ‘High Street Digital Health Index’ could give small traders the training, advice and skills they need to compete and to provide advice to communities on the infrastructure they need in place.
High Streets Minister Penny Mordaunt said:
High streets contribute billions of pounds to the economy and we know digital is the way forward so it is vitally important traders and town centres keep up with the way people shop if they are to continue to thrive.
The new digital laboratory is one idea that could ensure small businesses have the tools and skills they need to compete with the big players. We want to future proof our high streets so they can remain at the heart the community for decades to come.
Minister for the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey said:
I welcome the work of the Digital High Street Board and the leadership of John Walden in compiling this report.
There is no doubting the importance of thriving high streets to the economic health of towns and villages throughout the UK. I am convinced technology can play a part in helping make high streets more relevant and accessible in today’s and future modern high streets.
This report is an important contribution to considering how best to ensure a bright future for the UK’s fast changing high streets.
John Walden, Chief Executive of Home Retail Group, and Chairman of The Digital High Streets Advisory Board, said:
The digital revolution is arguably the most disruptive factor affecting our communities, but its effects are not often considered central to high street revitalisation. Many members of UK town centres are struggling to keep up with consumers in terms of their digital capabilities, and given the pace of digital growth many towns lack sufficient infrastructure and basic digital skills. I believe that the business-oriented Board has provided recommendations that, taken together, can restore our high streets to vibrancy in a digital future, into 2020 and beyond.
Director of Google UK Peter Fitzgerald said:
Today, the vast majority of UK shoppers research online before they buy from a store. This means that every business is a digital business because every consumer is a digital consumer. We hope that this report will be a first step towards improving digital access and expertise among small businesses and help them grow faster and reach more customers.
The government is committed to supporting high streets as part of its long-term economic plan and has provided local shops and businesses with a billion pound package of investment. It also backed the hugely popular Great British High Street competition that saw towns and villages across the UK battling it out for the coveted title of best high street.
A renewed focus on our high streets has led to a revival in many areas across the UK with latest figures showing that year-on-year average weekly retail sales increased by 4.8% in January.
This was the 23rd consecutive month of retail sales growth and the longest period of sustained year-on-year growth since May 2008. In addition, overall vacancy rates are now at their lowest level since 2010, and reoccupation rates for the high street are much higher, at 70%, than they are for shopping centres or retail parks.
A new online action pack is the latest in a line of government-backed initiatives to revive our high streets, including targeted business rate discounts, sensible planning changes and action that reins in over-zealous parking practices.