Last year Mary Portas released 'The Portas Review', which set out her recommendations for reviving the high streets of Britain's towns and cities.
As we said at the time, she seemed to have a blind spot as far as the role of the internet and digital technology is concerned. In fact, the report said that the internet 'is one of the key threats to retail on our high streets'.
We see it differently: the internet is vital to the future of the high street.
In our new report, 'How the Internet can save the High Street', (free for Bronze members upwards) we explore how digital technology can be used to drive footfall to the high street, and to enhance the in-store experience for comsumers.
Here are a few highlights from the report....
The internet is not going away, so retailers need to adapt to changing consumer behaviour, or face losing business to savvier competitors.
The growth of e-commerce, as well as smartphone penetration and increased use of mobile internet, offers some serious challenges to high street businesses.
Let's look at the stats:
80% of UK shoppers have reserved products online for collection in stores (up from 74% in 2011).
44% of UK shoppers always research purchases onthe internet before buying offline.
Just 4% never use the internet for product research.
43% of UK shoppers now use smartphones while on the move to compare prices and read product reviews (up from 19% last year).
Have you used your mobile to compare prices and look at product reviews while out shopping?
Driving more footfall into stores
The report looks at a number of ways that retailers can use the web to drive customers into their stores, including the use of vouchers, social media, location-based marketing and mobile.
For many offline purchases, the research process begins online. A recent Econsultancy survey, carried out using TolunaQuick, found that 44% of UK consumers always research purchases online before actually buying in-store, while a further 52% sometimes check online before buying in-store.
Therefore, high street stores must have a website which, at the very least, allows potential customers to access information about the product range and location.
Enhancing the in-store experience
As well as using the web to help to attract customers to the high street, businesses can also use this technology to provide a more useful and enjoyable shopping experience for customers.
For example, relatively new technology like interactive mirrors can provide a 'wow' factor for shoppers, while at the same time being useful, and enabling them to share their images on social sites and spread the word.
Mobile, and the use of apps and sites for price comparison, offers a very obvious threat to offline retailers as shoppers can often find the same product cheaper online.
However, the high street retailer needs to use all of the advantages they can offer to counter such a threat.
Get customers to use your mobile site or apps
The first thing is to accept that shoppers are going to use their mobiles in store. If customers are going to pick up their phones and look for reviews, persuade them to use your site for this. Promote it in store.
If you can provide the reviews they need, then customers won't have to use competitors' sites where they might find a better deal.
Better still, provide them with a link on the store shelf where they can find reviews, or maybe a QR code or barcode to scan and view further information.
Make sure shoppers can access the internet on their phones when in stores. This will improve the experience for them, and ensure that they can access mobile sites and apps, scan barcodes etc.
In addition, having customers logged in to wireless networks on their phones can allow retailers to target them with very precise and timely offers.