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Looking to a wired high street: the Bill Grimsey report

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Networked high streets which use big data and wi-fi to offer shoppers personalised daily deals, real-time pricing depending on the time of the shopping trip, and facial recognition-based payment are all foreseen in a report out this week.

The Grimsey Report concludes that bricks and mortar retailing is no longer enough to ensure high streets thrive. Rather it’s time to prepare for wired towns and networked high streets.

Such networked high streets might also be home to restaurants and hairdressers where appointments can be booked online, libraries equipped with co-working spaces, 3D printers and stores that know when a customer is coming towards them, and can offer hyper-local deals as a result, and car parking that can direct drivers towards the most convenient space. The Grimsey Review also anticipates stockless stores that use virtual fashion shows to demonstrate collections through touch-and-feel holograms, where clothes can be tried on via avatar with two-hour delivery to the chosen address.

“There will certainly be far fewer shops and technology will completely redesign the way we see and use our local high street,” said the report’s conclusion. At the moment the post-retail landscape is unclear but we expect it to develop around multipurpose community hubs.

The Grimsey Review also calls for a digital maturity demographic profile of each town centre, better-managed high streets, free parking, affordable shop space – and a strict timetable for change.

The review is an alternative to the Portas Report and comes from veteran retailer Bill Grimsey, previously of Iceland, who collaborated with an eight-strong team that included entrepreneurs, technology and regeneration experts.

The report says: “There was a time when the shopping experience belonged exclusively on the high street. Now there are now boundaries. The growth of online shopping has changed everything.” He added: “The retail property sector is very much competing in a multichannel shopping world.”

Some 9.7% of retailing takes place online, according to ONS figures, and a figure which the Centre for Retail Research expects to reach 21.5% by 2018. The report also cited Conlumino figures that suggest online shopping will account for 25% to 35% of spending by 2020, with the knock-on loss of 4,000 stores predicted.

The report also emphasises the fast growth in business rates, which it shows were up by 22.51% over five years to 2013, compared to bricks and mortar sales growth of 11.43% over the same time, and calls for the system to be reformed.

“When we embarked on this review,” concludes the team led by Bill Grimsey, “we knew we had to confront a painful truth facing our high streets. Many high streets up and down the country are dying. They need to embrace radical change if they’re going to have a future.”

And in order to achieve that future, it says, change must be driven by local communities, and supported by central government.

“The British high street is a world-renowned institution,” it says, “and we can’t just sit back and watch it wither away. It’s time our political leaders provided the framework and inspiration for everyone to restore pride to their community and make sure heir high street is fit for the 21st century.”

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