The Grimsey Review of 2013 very strongly made the case that the high street of the future (or indeed of the present) has to embrace the digital world into which many of us have increasingly moved. As technology and consumers have changed, so too retailers, high streets and towns have to change.
Likewise, in the Fraser Review for the Scottish Government, one of the key themes was about the digital economy and digital places. Rather than being stuck in old thinking about the competition between technology and places, we need to use technology to re-imagine and re-energise high streets and towns.
But what does that look like?
In January 2014 the Technology Strategy Board (the UK’s innovation agency) announced they were to invest up to £8m in a competition to encourage new ways of attracting people back to UK high streets. The competition seeks to develop new technology enabled solutions to address the challenge facing the high street by exploring innovative approaches to retailing service provision, logistics and travel management. The competition is open to SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) organisations that can demonstrate a route to market for their solution.
Well, over 180 organisations applied and 21 were successful in Phase One. This allocates c£2m of the money with a second competition for the remainder of £8m for companies successfully completing Phase One.
I am delighted that we at the University – and the retail group in particular – are involved in one of the successful Phase One bids. Miconex Ltd – a Perth based company – are the lead with technology partners Sparkle. We are involved in assessing the impact of the innovation. We describe the project thus:
We are really excited by the potential here and looking forward to the trials.
The full list of winners can be found here, but I thought it worthwhile to summarise what the focus of this re-imagined high street, according to the successful Phase One bids, might look like. The titles are the originals, but the classification is all mine.
It will be interesting to see how these progress in the coming months and whether they will work in bringing high streets into a digital era. The range of projects is interesting, as are their varied origins (private company, social enterprise, local authority) and the issues they are addressing (mainly providing digital services to high streets and places, but with a smattering of other topics including reward and loyalty).
We are looking forward to our project, as I am sure are all the selected projects, and it will be fascinating to see progress on “re-imaging the high street” through technology. To what extent technology alone can be the saviour of the high street of course remains open to discussion.