The Digital High Street Advisory Board, which was established in April 2014 to further the work of the Future High Street Forum, today announced a five-year strategy to reinvigorate the UK’s traditional high streets. It has proposed the adoption of four major inter-dependent digital initiatives by 2020 including:
•Targets for town centre infrastructure and connectivity for 2020 and beyond, including broadband, mobile and WiFi.
•The goal to eliminate the gap in basic digital skills by 2020 for individuals, small businesses and charities via regionally coordinated programmes.
•A centralised ‘High Street Digital Lab’ to provide the UK’s 1,200 towns and their high street businesses with ready-to-use digital capabilities and dedicated town-by-town digital skills training, leveraging a network of digital apprenticeships for every UK town centre in the UK.
•The first UK ‘High Street Digital Health Index’, an interactive benchmark for towns and local authorities to drive assessment and change across the key measures of digital health – infrastructure, basic digital skills, high street attraction and digital engagement.
The Digital High Street 2020 Report addresses how stakeholders in town centre communities, including small businesses, public service providers and charities, can benefit from integrating traditional high streets with digital technologies, and compete more favourably to serve customers as they embrace proliferating digital alternatives. It observes that although a “digital divide” is growing between those national and international firms investing aggressively in digital capabilities, and the many small, independent high street proprietors, the groups are interdependent and success of those across the divide is critical to the success of our communities.
The report also reinforces the importance of the digital economy to driving the economic and social vibrancy of High Streets, which stand to generate billions of pounds of additional revenue from digital interactions with the public. The Report suggests a framework to accelerate their capabilities through private, public and third-sector collaborations and leadership from local authorities.
John Walden, Chief Executive of Home Retail Group and Chairman of The Digital High Street 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.”
The high street needs to change to remain viable. 24/7 “always on” internet ‘window shopping’ has changed shopping forever. The range of goods, pricing comparisons and home delivery can appear more attractive to consumers, while ease of parking and lack of congestion can make out of town retail parks appear attractive when compared to what could be the intrinsic benefits of many high streets. New solutions in retailing, logistics and traffic management are required to enable towns and cities to regenerate their High Streets to cope, take advantage of technological changes and provide solutions that mix virtual and physical in new ways, offering genuinely new and attractive shopping experiences.
With 60% of adults using a mobile phone or tablet to access the internet on the go, digital transformation of high streets would generate significant social and economic value for our communities around the country. High streets are worth investing in with more than £150bn of retail sales influenced by digital, but retailers with services that fail to meet customers’ expectations risk losing over £12bn sales a year. Only half of small businesses (SMEs) and charities have a website and just 33% of SMEs currently transact online, as 31% of all such organisations lack basic online skills. Recent estimates show that digital technology could unlock £18.8bn of revenue for SMEs, while reducing their costs by up to 20% and increasing customer satisfaction and retention. The estimated annual social and economic value of digital inclusion for a new users going online is £1,064, rising to £3,568 for a more advanced individual or small business user.
Digital High Street Advisory Board 2020 recommend that town centres significantly raise infrastructure and connectivity standards for 2020, by developing sufficient digital access through infrastructure beyond existing Government targets for 2017, including, but not limited to, high speed mobile data coverage with 4G available, from multiple operators, to 98% of the population across both indoor and outdoor geographies as well as clear public access WiFi standards, for consumer experiences to ensure non-disruptive handoffs as consumers move among venues and providers and to encourage broader deployment.
In a first for the UK, a Digital High Street Health Index will enable towns, national and local authorities to assess the competitiveness of a particular local high street community or high streets generally, understand the key measures of economic value creation from digital developments, and inspire local authorities, town teams and private enterprises to make positive change.
Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium comments:
“British high streets have weathered sweeping changes in society, economic cycles, property development and retail expansion, and the seismic impact of digital technology on communications, entertainment and commerce. Our communities have survived these changes to varying degrees but while what makes a successful high street has not fundamentally changed, the ability to achieve wider future success is now absolutely dependent on embracing the impact of digital and the recommendations of this report provide a strategy to do just that.”