Digital remedy for high street health proposed

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The Digital High Street Advisory Board has announced a five-year strategy to reinvigorate the UK’s traditional High Streets and proposed the adoption of four major inter-dependent digital initiatives by 2020:

  • Targets for town centre infrastructure and connectivity for 2020 and beyond, including broadband, mobile and WiFi.
  • Goal to eliminate the gap in basic digital skills by 2020 for individuals, small businesses and charities via regionally coordinated programmes.
  • 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.

Chief executive of Home Retail Group and chairman of The Digital High Street Advisory Board John Walden commented: “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.”

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, the report claims. More than £150bn of retail sales are influenced by digital, but retailers with services that fail to meet customers’ expectations risk losing over £12bn sales a year, the report adds. 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 £18.8 billion 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.

Arena Photo UK /
Arena Photo UK /

Google UK director 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.”

British Retail Consortium director general Helen Dickinson added: “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.”

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