In this piece, Jamie Matthews looks at the power of digital to both destroy and save Britain’s vanishing high streets.
Despite the seemingly constant ‘death of the high street’ headlines, it’s where you live that determines how you feel Britain’s high streets are really doing. There are comparatively affluent neighbourhoods up and down the country that remain home to vibrant retail areas. But there is also no shortage of places where the retail picture is undoubtedly darkening.
The number of places like this are increasing, and if you live in one of them, the local high street serves as an up-close-and-personal daily reminder of the challenges retailers are facing.
The role of digital in the decline of our high streets is well understood, but its capacity to help rejuvenate them is only starting to be explored. The power of digitally-led in-store experiences to lure consumers back into bricks-and-mortar stores seems certain, how long it will take innovation like that to happen is far less clear. It’s easy to see how those developments are having a big impact in places like Westfield, but if you’re a regional high street in a less than affluent area, it’s hard to imagine anything similar coming into play in the next five years. By the time that tech can be deployed on that scale, it’s likely to be too late for some.
A map for still-vibrant high streets.
All this, like so much in life, comes down to money. It’s money that gives towns the ability to change. Those with money are able to innovate and adapt, those without it can’t. Demographics dictates this. High streets where the locals have money to spend will automatically have a higher index of coffee shops and restaurants and more innovative store concepts.
It’s retail risks – totally non-traditional offerings– that create reasons for consumers to get up off the sofa and go shopping…