Town centres and high streets have a positive social and economic impact in communities up and down the country: for employment, to shop, for entertainment, public services, cultural events and to do business. But their role is evolving.
The retail market as a whole is undergoing far reaching change, driven by technology. Today’s consumer has more sophisticated expectations of product, service, value and environment and this has implications for retail in local communities. More and more retailers are making use of technological innovation to offer a more digital, more personalised and improved service to their customers and to ensure the same enjoyable user experience across every channel - digital as well as physical.
Digital technology will increasingly play a role in ensuring high streets are attractive, sustainable and meet changing consumer demands. From virtual fitting rooms to interactive window displays to click & collect retailers are continuously finding ways to use technology to improve experiences.
Success at a local level also requires strong local leadership and partnerships involved in everything from parking costs and requirements to local events to draw people in. Places with a vibrant mix of shopping, leisure and other attractions based on the needs of the local community are places where people actively choose to spend their time.
Given the ongoing transformation to multi-channel or omni-channel retailing, a good deal of traditional retail space is no longer fit for purpose and not well placed. Shops are tending to concentrate in prime areas and there is growing acknowledgement in some areas there may be surplus retail space that will need repurposing as housing or entertainment, for example.
We participate actively in the Future High Street Forum, a joint government-business body tasked with overseeing initiatives aimed at tackling some of these local challenges and building momentum around positive change. These initiatives include the pledges of support from retailers and others to use their leadership expertise, skills and resources to help high streets achieve their full potential, the Great British High Street competition as well as digital pilots in Stroud, Cheltenham and Gloucester providing insight and support for local players to help them realise the benefits of digital for their local communities.