He described the current ‘tipping point’ for high streets and predicted that more and more big retail names could disappear. He called for a move away from ‘twentieth century clone towns’ created by retail chains and a 20-year detailed plan for recovery. The vision included embracing smart technology, moving from retail to community hubs and creating a unique identity for cities through independent businesses and cultural events.

Researchers in Leeds Business School have been playing an active role in this agenda, drawing on our extensive information resources and knowledge to look at how towns and cities around the world have tackled the challenges created for high streets by global economic and cultural trends.  The transition to out of town shopping and fundamental changes in consumer purchasing behaviour has weakened the power of city and town centre retailers to attract visitors.

Several international case studies produced by the Retail Institute for Key Cities* describe how local governments in various countries have responded to these challenges with initiatives that range from small events to large infrastructure projects. A particular focus is on remaining shops to provide a retail experience that is both distinct from, and complementary to, the online offer. Similarly, cities and towns have to attract people to their centres by creating and communicating a positive experience for all.

The case studies include Roosendaal in the Netherlands, which is using a smart retail approach consisting of rolling out free Wi-Fi, online platforms and a loyalty programme. The rapidly growing city of Rzeszów in Poland has seen significant eco-friendly innovation, particularly in transport infrastructure, while Tulsa in the USA redeveloped central space as an arts and entertainment destination. The case studies provide illustrations of what works in different contexts and examples that may, with some adaptation be transferable to the UK. However the challenges remain and uncertainties around the likely impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution, enhancing the Omni-channel retail experience and overcoming barriers to innovation and entry of entrepreneurs remain to be further explored and understood.

More information about the Retail Institute and our work is available on our Retail Institute pages.

*Key Cities is a diverse group of 24 mid-tiered towns and cities, all with large central area footprints and extensive retail floor space. With discussions growing on the future uses of centres for retail, housing and leisure, the Key Cities group aims to lead in applying innovative approaches that maximise the potential of their town and city centres.

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