Regular readers of this blog will know about the work we do with the Local Data Company (LDC). As a University we are not alone in this. A couple of weeks ago I attended the LDC/CDRC Retail Thought Leadership event in the rather splendid, though not really dreaming spires, of the Said Business School at the University of Oxford.
The aim of this session – hosted by Matthew Hopkinson of the LDC and Jonathan Reynolds (OXIRM, Oxford University) – was to bring together practitioners and academics from a range of universities that LDC work with, as well as some of the work being undertaken through the ESRC funded Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), in the hope and anticipation of some interesting discussions about the current state and future need for work in these areas. Thirty five or so people thus spent an absorbing day in the Thatcher Business Excellence Centre of the Said Business School! (The second time this week that my irony meter has gone off the scale)
The day was structured around three sessions. Jonathan Reynolds kicked off with a review of his work on the state of CB retail places using LDC data. I followed, doing something vaguely similar, but without the data, focusing instead on the need for consistency in our approach to data to maximise our understanding. This is something we have practised in our USP work and so I also showcased that. My presentation can be downloaded here.
Session Two saw the focus switch to consumer experience data. Cathy Hart (Loughborough) looked at the in-town customer experience (details can be found here) whilst Guy Lansley (UCL) summarised some ongoing ESRC funded MSc projects looking at footfall and high street visitor insight. His use of Twitter data was something I found really thought provoking. Eva Pascoe (@EvaPascoe) suggested combining this with data from the more female oriented Instagram; a useful and potentially fascinating avenue for future work.
The final session turned more technical with Michael Pavlis (Liverpool) looking at estimating retail catchments and Anupam Nanda (Henley) focusing on retail real estate modelling. These presentations showcased the very different potential for using the LDC data, as opposed to our Stirling towns-type of work.
Returning to my presentation (and my colleagues Anne Findlay and Lorraine Ferguson were also present), I argued that we need a new vocabulary and and new consistency in how we think about retail in town centres. The extensive coverage that LDC provides has the potential to generate huge steps forward in understanding and comparison, if we approach the topic consistently and methodically and with a mindset of generating useful and stable measures. This is the work that Lorraine is engaged upon for her co-funded collaborative ESRC/LDC PhD studentship. It is also the fundamental principle underpinning our work for the Understanding Scottish Places tool for the Scottish Government.
The overall consensus was that the day was worthwhile and worth repeating, probably next time including practitioner presentations and on a more focused agenda. Some would question the overt commercial impact of some of the research being done (desiring more) and retailers of course have their own powerful and detailed analysis and other insights. Academics though are good at posing the difficult and interesting questions. Nonetheless, there did seem to be a genuine interaction and interest in discussing these topics and on helping focus where this research is going and what questions should be posed in the next few years.
The abiding impact for me however was over the questions that can be posed and the insights that can be generated when businesses do allow and combine with academics to work with their data. This has been a business belief of the LDC for a long while and I believe has enhanced general knowledge and understanding of key retail, town centre and vacancy issues – with much more to come both in depth and breadth. The development of the CDRC also hints at a more positive future for such collaborations from other organizations on consumer data issues. Putting all this together is really exciting.