Despite recent reports suggesting that consumer confidence is returning following some post-Brexit jitters, the poor old British high street is still taking a hammering and a new organisation has recently launched to help save the high street by offering retailers a range of skills and tools to enable them to remain strong during turbulent trading conditions.
Savethehighstreet.org is an industry-wide initiative which aims to support and empower local shopkeepers. Initiated by a consortium of organisations including the Future High Streets Forum, Google Digital Garage and Tech City UK along with a number of retailers, the group have produced a 10 point ‘Connected Digital High Street Manifesto’ aimed at helping both local shopkeepers and the local retail economy to thrive for generations to come.
Primarily aimed at smaller businesses, the group aims to get at least 125,000 retailers signed up in their first year as they suggest on their site:
“The more of us who join, the stronger we all become as a group and the faster we can accelerate towards a more sustainable local retail economy.”
By merging the strengths of local and digital commerce – helping smaller businesses to strengthen their multichannel offer they suggest that they will work better together – finding strength as a group to create a ‘better-connected digitally enabled high street.’
According to recent figures, it’s not just the larger retailers that are suffering – following the well documented demise of high street favourites including BHS, My Local and Austin Reed, it appears that small shopkeepers are also feeling the pinch. It is estimated that around 45,000 shops closed last year and the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have warned that we can expect more closures as small businesses struggle with rising rental payments and business rates. Some businesses including Store 21 and Beales have recently been forced to enter into company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) in order to cut their rental payments and stay afloat.
The BRC suggests that the doom will continue, as the future for many retailers remains bleak. They estimate that one million retail jobs could fall by the wayside over the next ten years.
Faced with this depressing forecast, savethehighstreet.org were compelled to launch their manifesto, which includes the following tenets:
“A world where the benefits of digital commerce can be harnessed by any local shop in ways only a bricks and mortar store on the high street can.
“A world where it’s clear what to do next in this rapidly changing world and why.
“A world where the organisations and individuals who can and want to help, do so in a coordinated and substantial way.
“A world of local and online, rather than local or online; bringing customers to the local high street and the local high street to customers.
“A world where local shops remain a central part of the shopping journey.”
The first step for savethehighstreet.org has been canvassing small retailers across London to raise awareness of the scheme as they prepare to take their mission across the UK.
Speaking to Retail week, James Roper, the chairman and founder of the IMRG described why the new consortium is so important for retail:
“High streets must change to remain relevant in the internet age but most [retailers] don’t know how to and need a lot of help.
“I am pleased to see Savethehighstreet.org arriving to bring a centralised, substantial solution that can directly enable all local retailers to fully engage in the digital economy.”
Eileen Naughton, head of Google UK and Ireland explained why Google also felt the need to get involved with the group:
“In the digital age, a basic understanding of how the online world works is useful and, when it comes to business, it’s essential.
“We are welcoming people to seminars delivered by Google’s Digital Garage experts, to learn more about how digital can help them grow.”
As we’ve discussed on our blog many times before there is a place for bricks and mortar stores in the digital age and by helping small retailers to develop and play to their strengths we hope that the BRC’s predictions for doom and gloom do not come to pass!