“Redesigning town centres as community hubs could actually benefit retailers”

Earlier this week, former retail chief Bill Grimsey warned that Britain’s town centres were in danger of becoming ghost towns in the near future.

Calling for immediate action to be taken, Grimsey told the BBC to “forget retail” for town centres, which he believes need to become community hubs based on “health, education, entertainment, leisure and arts and culture”.

Grimsey’s report into the future of town centres and high streets indicates that facilities such as libraries and digital and health hubs should be part of the offering to bring back people to town centres.

With retailers on UK high streets being hit hard by online competition and increasing rent prices, the BRC has called on the government to freeze business rates, and reports this week have suggested 22,000 retail jobs will be affected this year by struggling chains.

So, what does this all mean for today’s high street retailers that are still trying to find a way to get sales back on track? Should you just admit defeat and close up shop? Fujitsu thinks not. In fact, the company’s Jat Sahi, Digital Lead Retail, EMEIA, believes that Grimsey’s community hub idea for UK high streets could actually be beneficial to retailers.

“The various closures and cutbacks that have dogged the high street lately demonstrate how retailers need to rethink their brick-and-mortar presence in the age of ecommerce. Consumers have become accustomed to the seamless convenience of shopping online, and this latest report underlines how some retailers have been unable to match that experience in-store,” said Sahi.

“Designing town centres as community hubs could actually prove positive for retailers, as having such attractions nearer stores would very likely keep a retailer front-of-mind for consumers and make them more likely to be visited.

“Retailers will however need to prove their value if they are to compete with more varied tenants for their shop space,” he warned.

“This will require them to maximise their retail space to create an easy and delightful experience for customers. Deploying technology in smart ways offers a means to do this – according to our own research, four-in-five Brits would spend more in a shop with a better technology experience. Despite this, only half of retailers have a digital strategy to implement the kind of technologies that could boost the browsing and shopping journey.

“If cities and towns do take up these recommendations, it will be absolutely vital for those still on the high street to maximise their already reduced presence. But regardless of this, with consumer confidence trending downward, competition is fierce and both customer loyalty and shopping experience are weighing in.”

Sahi concluded: “If they can avoid being the next generation of retailers to be pushed out of the high street for good, by deploying technology in a visionary manner they could be looking forward to consumers being physically much nearer to them which could be a renaissance for the high street.”

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