Sir: The debate over the future of the high street needs to move away from being a public spat between Mary Portas and Bill Grimsey. Both, in their different ways, are advocating exactly the right thing.
What’s needed is a strategy bringing together digital and physical to increase footfall, engagement and create a true sense of community. Developing innovative digital services goes to the heart of this challenge. But this needs to be approached through regular, multi-disciplinary working groups - this is an ideal opportunity to get local people involved, especially if they have experience in different sectors. A new approach of continuous testing and learning is required, picking up on the best of how innovation happens in the modern economy.
When it comes to a truly ‘wired town,’ by all means provide entrepreneurs with a platform by giving them vacant space but why not also provide them with the digital toolset to help make themselves known, and allow them to sell? We’ve seen click & collect really take off recently - why can’t that work on a more local scale?
And why not make the way in which we set rates usage and parking restrictions digital? If you have networks of connected sensors in the high street, plus analytics to interpret the data, there won’t be as much need for hefty meetings and political spats over local town centres.
Cars, pedestrians and shop visits need to be monitored and correlated with purchase data as part of the digital vision. That will provide the much needed fuel for an analysis and improvement of the high street that leads to engagement and experimentation.
The British high street needs to evolve. But, first, we must shift the mindset to one of continuous learning and experimentation and away from large scale projects. Shopkeepers should be given a platform for doing the same.
John Oswald, Business Design Director, Fjord