A report issued by the Digital High Street Advisory Board has suggested that a connectivity overhaul is necessary for the survival of UK High Streets, and has advised that 4G mobile connectivity in town centres is a vital part of this.
The Digital High Street Report 2020 seeks to make the UK’s towns and high streets more appealing to visitors through the use of technology, and outlines how UK town centres should adapt to an increasingly digital consumer. With practices such as showrooming (checking products and prices using a smartphone whilst in store) and webrooming (conducting product research online via a connected device before shopping in a physical store) becoming ever more common, high-street shops need adequate infrastructure for their customers to connect.
The report considers both fixed line broadband and mobile broadband when assessing the current state of town centre infrastructure. It outlines the commitment given by Telefonica (O2) to Ofcom that it will provide indoor 4G coverage to 98% of the UK population by the end of 2017 – a commitment that other networks have said they will seek to match. The report suggests that although 4G coverage is progressing well and is currently available to 72% of town centre premises, only around 35% are covered by all of the top three providers, EE, Vodafone, and O2.
The recommendation of the Digital High street Advisory Board is to:
“Raise infrastructure and connectivity standards for 2020, including i) universal fixed connectivity of not less than 24 Mbps, with 75% of the UK’s residences and businesses having access to fixed broadband speeds of 100 Mbps, ii) high speed mobile data coverage with 4G available, from multiple operators, to 98% of the population across both indoor and outdoor geographies, and iii) clear public access WiFi standards for consumer experiences, to ensure non-disruptive handoffs as consumers move among venues and providers and to encourage broader deployment.”
The rise of online shopping is often blamed for a decline in the British High Street as consumers are able to use the internet to compare products easily and look for better deals, and online retailers are able to offer more competitive pricing without the overheads of a physical store. However, many retailers now recognise that bricks and mortar stores and online shops can co-exist and can work together as part of the consumer experience, with popular services such as click and collect proving that online activity can actually drive shoppers into physical stores.
According to John Walden, Digital High Street Advisory Board chairman and chief executive of the Home Retail Group, “The digital revolution is arguably the most disruptive factor affecting our communities, but its effects are not often considered central to high street revitalisation. Many members of UK town centres are struggling to keep up with consumers in terms of their digital capabilities, and given the pace of digital growth many towns lack sufficient infrastructure and basic digital skills. I believe that the business-orientated board has provided recommendations that, taken together, can restore our high streets to vibrancy in a digital future, into 2020 and beyond.”