Business Technology

BRC, Google and O2 back five-year plan to digitally “reinvigorate UK high streets”

6 min read

09 March 2015

Former deputy editor

In order to support “stakeholders in town city communities”, a five-year digital strategy has been created by the Digital High Street Advisory Board to encourage a focus on web and mobile connectivity, which could unlock £18.8bn in revenue for SMEs.

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Said stakeholders include small businesses, public service providers and charities, with the report highlighting that the introduction of digital technologies will offer a competitive edge to better serve their customers in a marketplace that offers many alternatives.

Additionally, the report has found a growing digital divide between national and international firms that are making aggressive digital investments compared to small independent businesses, and noted the importance of the digital economy and how it adds “social vibrancy” to the high street.

Peter Fitzgerald, director, Google UK, 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.”

Change is said to be the key for the high street to stay viable, a result of internet offering access to spending opportunities 24/7. The study said that 60 per cent of UK adults use a mobile or tablet to access the internet on the move, which reveals a clear value proposition for companies to make the necessary adjustments. 

For example, just half of SMEs and charities have a website, only 33 per cent accept online transactions and 31 per cent of lack basic online skills, according to the report. However, digital technology has the power to unlock a potential of £18.8bn in revenue for SMEs, in turn lowering costs by up to a fifth and enhancing customer retention and satisfaction. 

Read more on the UK’s skills gap:

John Walden, CEO 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.”

Recommendations from the board include: 

  • Significantly improved infrastructure and connectivity for 2020. 1. No broadband speeds below 24Mbps for businesses 2. Fast mobile data coverage, inclusive of 4G, available to 98 per cent of the population from multiple operators whether indoors or outdoors 3. Clear public WiFi standards to eliminate disruption when moving from venue to venue and broader distribution.
  • Development of a basic digital skills programme by 2020 to end the gap in digital knowledge across retail communities, ensuring entrepreneurs, SMEs and charities have general skills. Digital skills charity Go ON UK – launched by Last Minute founder Martha Lane-Fox – to organise management and funding.
  • Debut High Street Digital Lab scheme will provide the UK’s 1,200 towns and businesses with digital capabilities from a central not-for-profit organisation. It will aggregate technologies such as apps, tools, methods and training programmes, acting as a platform for businesses to access the services.
  • Another first, the Digital High Street Health Index will enable towns, national and local authorities to assess the competitiveness of communities, understand economic value of digital and provide inspiration for users to make changes for the better.

Helen Dickinson, director General of the British Retail Consortium, said: “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.”

Read more on how digital has changed business operations:

Ben Dowd, business director at O2, added: “Over the next five years, we will continue to see digital technology redefining how consumers, businesses and public services interact.

“The Digital High Street Health Index will be a unique and critically essential part of enabling towns and villages to understand how they can put technology at the heart of their community, so that local customers and citizens can truly benefit.  Crucially, they must work with retailers to ensure they understand how technology can complement – not replace – their physical presence, as those that fail to take an integrated approach risk being left behind.”

Image via Shutterstock.