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EDITORIAL The rebirth of the Town Centre needs to be digital

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High Streets: need investment, but also need the right retailers
High Streets: need investment, but also need the right retailers
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UK Government planning to pump £1bn into 50 town centres – but that spend has to be for digitally savvy companies, not the old guard

News that the UK government is to pump £1 billion into revamping 50 High Streetsacross the land comes as welcome news – but what exactly is that money going to be spent on and, perhaps more pressingly, are retailers actually ready to spend it?

 

While the government plan is full of the list of High Streets that are set to benefit from the scheme, the details of what that money will be spent on is scant. Much of the detail is yet to be hammered out, but nebulous claims to make them multi-use, integrate transport, technology and more to make them more attractive places to live, work and shop is what people want to hear and, done right, could help rejuvenate how many of these town centres are used.

 

However, the technology play part of it may be more tricky than policy wonks in Westminster figure. It turns out that, despite the unstoppable march of digital technology in all facets of life – not to mention the 22 years I personally have put into writing about it – it turns out that a surprisingly large number of retailers claim that they “aren’t ready” for digital technology nor the transformation that it is set to bestow.

 

In fact, new research has found that a worrying number of retailersare not actively preparing for the future, with 35% admitting to having no business transformation strategy in place for the rise of digital technology and changing consumer habits.

 

The survey of 100 top UK retailers, conducted by full-service eCommerce agency PushON, found that 20% have not invested anything in developing the digital side of their business in the past year.

 

Of those retailers that do have a strategy in place, only 27% said that they are currently progressing well with their transformation.

 

Uh-oh.

 

This is indeed worrying news, in some ways, and not in others. It is worrying because it means that a third of retailers are simply not on the same page as their consumers and, given how long online has been around, they are lagging woefully behind.

 

These retailers are doomed. And their staff are doomed with them – which is a huge worry.

 

However, it isn’t bad news in that – and I am sticking my neck out here – they deserve to fail and in doing so will make way for the new breed of retailers, both digital and physical (and both) that will make the High Street work.

 

One way to look at the failure of the High Street is through this prism of digital ignorance: these retailers cling to business-as-usual when the world they are now operating in is any thing but. Failing and collapsing may well be a problem for town centres right now, but it could well be the wiping away of the old, ready for the new.

 

And, loathe as I am to say it, perhaps this government plan to inject money now is right as it could well be spend making the town centres and High Streets from Dudley to Dover fit for purpose in the 21stCentury.

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