Why Save the High Street when a Digital Revolution is on the way?

By David Worsell, former MD of Granicus UK and our newest advisor and investor.

Digital technology can revolutionise the High Street. From frictionless payments to talking lamp posts, how can you make your town a go-to destination?

Humans are social creatures. We thrive when we interact, socialise and engage. Now that lockdown restrictions are easing how will the high street recover from Covid-19?

According to ONS, online shopping has increased by nearly 33 percent. However, many of those people who are working from home have also turned to small, locally owned businesses for their essentials, with the likes of Visa supporting digital shop small campaigns. There is a glimmer of hope for our high streets, if we can help them stay competitive and engage their customers in a safe environment.

Coronavirus is transforming how we shop and engage

The retail industry must evolve with their customer’s dynamic needs. That means innovating in order to stay competitive, modernising its solutions and making them agile and responsive. The high street was in trouble before the coronavirus lockdown began. Businesses that respond to market forces and customer demands will survive. In addition to following government guidelines, businesses of all sizes must consider the entire customer journey and how this can be digitally transformed. Food and beverage, retail, wellness and hospitality industries should think like their customers: from taking online bookings, implementing online menus, app based ordering at the table or ordering ahead – they should make everything a contactless process moving forward.

Through my work at Tarmac in the US and in the UK, I’ve observed that businesses that build an ecosystem of digital experiences for their customers have gained a huge advantage over their competitors. The Covid crisis is driving demand from businesses who want to link point of sale (POS) with back office and inventory management systems online and in their shops. By shifting towards rapid digital transformation – composed of mobile shopping, mobile payment, loyalty reward apps, order ahead and immersive interactive experiences – businesses are creating safer, more secure experiences for their customers.

Imagine cafes that enable customers to order and pay ahead of time and have their take away order ready for them upon arrival, or having completely touchless payment systems for artisan markets and dining experiences.

What can local authorities do?

Local authorities should support their high streets by thinking like their local independent businesses and begin by engaging residents in the virtual high street. This means focusing on the entire customer experience and implementing smart, fun digital technology that engages people in a friendly way to encourage people back to the real high street.

According to a ‘sentiment tracking poll’ commissioned by Visit Britain, due to Covid-19, only 21% of the U.K. population feel that ‘the worst has passed’ in relation to the pandemic. It will be important for local authorities to invest in technology that supports what the public craves: safety, ease and having a voice in civic matters.

I believe there is a better way to connect people, places and businesses to drive people to the high street. Citizens can have a fully immersive AI-powered experience by engaging with a city’s infrastructure – from spaces, objects and store fronts. This award-winning project by Hello Lamp Post in Belfast demonstrates how a fun platform can be used to raise revenue while also educating tourists and residents about local maritime history and shops. Local authorities must help businesses by driving footfall back to the high street and supporting growth. Hello Lamp Post makes this possible through a playful text-based (SMS, WhatsApp, and messenger) platform that empowers people to connect, engage and shape their town or city by talking to street objects. Councils can not only rejuvenate a high street, but create a stronger community by using this fun and simple engagement tool.

A vision for the future

So let’s tie this together. Inspired by projects Tarmac are supporting in the UK including the innovative Pillar Project, imagine a local virtual currency similar to the innovative Bristol Pound, which can be used to pay for goods and services in local business to help stimulate the hyperlocal economy. This currency would integrate seamlessly into businesses’ POS systems to improve efficiency and reduce contact. The local authority can include promotions, offers and rewards to citizens shared through conversations with lamp posts and local landmarks to drive the journey along the high street. Sounds far-fetched? The technology is already available, viva la revolution!

To get in touch or find out more information, please email contact@hlp.city

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