miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2014

Technology, the saviour of High Streets

For a complete generation of Spaniards, High Streets was one of the symbols of the United Kingdom. And it is also an icon of our lost adolescence. We travelled far less than our sons and daughters and UK was almost the only place we visited outside Spain before we had an stable job. United Kingdom was the place where we went to polish and improve our basic English. If you are around the fifties your High Streets memories are crowded with an endless number of small and medium shops full of magic things we were not able to find in Spain. In my case mainly records and books.

High Streets are not like this any more. They are not the centre of English life like in the past. One in six shops in the UK lies empty and town centre shops close every day. Many store chains that were the main characters of those central town spaces like HMV or Woolworth have disappeared. Some newspapers are putting on the table ideas to recover the High Streets. But due to its importance for the British economy, the United Kingdom Government are launching several initiatives to support the recovery of this central element of British life.

The UK Government initiatives for saving the High Streets take their roots in an independent report from 2011. As shopping activity is migrating from the High Streets to e-commerce and out-town shopping, the main aim of the Government initiatives is trying to make the High Streets in the heart of the social and cultural life of the cities. The governance of this action plan is based on Forum composed of citizens associations, public sector and private companies.

Although recovering the commercial life of high streets is not the main objective of the government initiatives, some of the actions go in that direction. Nevertheless, the idea is not turning the clock back in time and returning to physical shops only. Based on the usage of technology,  the aim is to build up Virtual High Streets.  These Virtual High Streets will show the goods and services of the physical shops, but also will be a virtual space for meeting. The creation of an hybrid space of "click & brick", with a combination of on line & off line commerce is seen as the cornerstone for recovering  the economic activity in High Streets. A public funding up to £ 8m is foreseen for this purpose.

In order to save the retail sector it is required to recognise its limitations and build up on its advantages. The personal touch of the shops of High Streets should be complemented with the insights that technology could provide in real time. The first step is the connected store and the final objective the omnichannel shopping experience, being able to "shop seamlessly across online, mobile and other digital channels as well as encouraging them inside physical stores". What is more, the synergies between the click-and-mortar shopping experience and the digital channel could bring a whole new shopping experience and new sources of revenue in a competitive market (social engagement, online research while shopping, virtual mirrors, 3D printing ...)

The shops where I bought my first punk vinyls have disappeared from the High Streets. Tower Records are not in the heart of Piccadilly Circus now. Although records and CDs were not among my purchases when I visited London some months ago, I enjoyed walking down Oxford Street and shopping other kind of things with my son and daughter. I hope that stroll will not be for them the memories of a irremediably lost world in a couple of decades. I hope technology will be the saviour of High Streets.

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