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Digital essential to UK high street reinvention

A willingness to embrace the digital space will be essential to the successful reinvention of the British high street, according to the British Retail Consortium’s director general Helen Dickinson.

Speaking at the Future High Street Summit 2015 in Nottingham yesterday, Dickinson argued that digital technology is an unstoppable force the high street must embrace.

“We must think about high streets as destinations combining retail, leisure, a night-time economy and a true sense of community. It is about retailers utilising the physical space to create excitement and give shoppers a reason to visit the high street.”

Improving the broadbrand infrastructure and Wi-Fi in town centres, as well as teaching small business owners basic digital and social media skills, were identified as key recommendations to come out of the Digital High Street 2020 report.

The report’s principal consultant Guy Douglas argued that the high street is not digitally intuitive and therefore retailers must endeavour to improve their ‘discoverability’ in order to rise up the Google rankings in both online and mobile searches.

Douglas advised setting up local ‘digital hubs’ led by small teams, which could host workshops and share knowledge to the benefit of the whole retail community.

“Click-and-collect is another huge opportunity to get shoppers back on the journey,” Douglas added.

This opinion was shared by Caroline Gorski, managing partner in retail and leisure at O2, who is working with big data to analyse information from 10,000 high streets to identify where the most digitally engaged consumers are nationwide. According to Gorski, having Wi-Fi in store is crucial to attracting shoppers.

She said 72% of consumers use their mobile device in store for price comparison, showrooming and to connect with in-store multimedia technology, adding: “In 2014, £156.8bn of spend was influenced by digital and 10% of consumers say they would shop elsewhere if a retailer does not offer digital services.”

Gorski suggested retailers could connect with consumers by texting them a discount code as they walk through the door.

Other ideas included offering digital signage and allowing consumers to transact on their smartphones, bypassing the till. While unable to give full details at this stage, Gorski told delegates that Nottingham has been identified as being in the top 10 of the most digitally advanced town centres in a forthcoming O2 report.  

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