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Retailer Insight: Bill Grimsey aims to tackle the future of our high streets

High street

Retail veteran Bill Grimsey explains why he is conducting a second review into Britain’s high streets and how retailers can prepare for the future.

Bill Grimsey

Bill Grimsey

In 2013, I collaborated with a team of professionals from different backgrounds and published The Grimsey Review: An alternative future for the High Street. I wanted to offer a different perspective on the challenges that were emerging, and encourage more policy debate on this hugely important issue. Five years on, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit our review and see what has happened, what has changed and what can be done to give high streets a stronger purpose in the 21st century.

Why now? Well, it has become apparent that retail is in the middle of a perfect storm. Following recent news about distressed retailers, company voluntary arrangements, administrations and store closures – including New Look, Mothercare, East and Toys R Us, alongside restaurant groups Jamie Oliver and Byron, to name but a few – no one can deny that we need to take a long hard look at what is going on.

The government’s focus on Brexit is sucking the life out of Westminster and pushing issues such as the state of our high streets to the margins. This is what makes our review all the more urgent. We need to get this issue back on to the national agenda and seriously examine what is contributing to a growing crisis.

Inflation is raising its ugly head, real disposable incomes have fallen, business rates are biting the sector hard, and the Local Government Association says local authorities are facing a £5bn funding gap by 2020.

But the real elephant in the room is the impact technological advances are having – on society, on consumers, on friends and family. These changes dwarf everything else, and we are simply not preparing ourselves for what is coming down the track.

Not since the Industrial Revolution has disruptive innovation been poised to have such a seismic influence on the way we behave individually and as a community. The new technologies are changing our behaviour right now and we need to prepare.

The future for innovative retailers in public areas such as town centres and high streets can be managed by populating these areas for other reasons to visit than just shopping. The key will be to create community hubs where people come for a great experience that might involve health, education, entertainment, leisure, arts and culture. Because of that density of people, good merchants will always be able to trade. But they are going to have to use technology to trade well.

Despite all the changes ahead, the fundamentals of good retail will not change. The right products in the right place at the right time and price, complemented by technology to make it a great experience, will determine who owns the future.

Bill Grimsey’s second independent review is due to be published on 4 July.

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