Digital high street initiative kicks off in the UK

UK high streets are now starting to benefit from a business/government-led scheme aimed at enhancing their digital credentials.

A digital high street programme led by John Walden, CEO of Argos owner Home Retail Group, is now under way in Cheltenham and Gloucester, running until September, and it will be rolled out nationwide later in 2016.

Following these initial trials, 'The Great British Digital High Street Hub' will launch nationally in spring 2017, with the target of sharing best practice across regions and developing new solutions that could ultimately modernise the shopping experience in local communities and fast-track digital expertise among businesses.

With support from executives at the likes of IBM, Boots UK, Cisco, Google, Post Office, Lloyds Banking Group and Facebook, the initiative will provide strategic advice, measurement, digital toolkits and hands-on digital training to town centre, business improvement district managers and their thousands of retailers.

Small businesses in other industries, as well as leisure centres, libraries, pubs and clubs, will also be able to tap into the resources.

Walden, who acts as chairman of the Digital High Street Board alongside his day job of running one of the UK's largest retailers, said: "Due to the spread of online commerce and services, modern consumers are often more digitally capable than the places they visit. 

"This has resulted in less consumer satisfaction with town centres, eroding both their economic and social viability. The potential for communities and local economies to reap the benefits of digital is not being realised."

He added: "The High Street Digital Hub trials will help participating high street stakeholders take full advantage of the digital revolution to create a vibrant, attractive and engaging experience for all and validate the approaches that can effectively scale these advantages to other high streets throughout the UK."

Ministerial support for the project comes in the form of high streets minister, Marcus Jones, digital economy minister, Ed Vaizey, and Anna Soubry, the business minister. Trade bodies involved in the scheme are the Association of Convenience Stores, Association of Town & City Management, British Council of Shopping Centres, British Independent Retailers Association, British Retail Consortium and IMRG.

MP Jones, who works in the Department for Communities and Local Government, commented: "The Great British High Street programme is revitalising our town centres and growing year on year.

"Digital technologies have transformed how people live, work and play. Digital is changing how consumers interact with businesses and services, and how high streets are used. We need to provide high quality tools and training from reliable sources to help businesses in local communities to get online."