Britain's High Streets - and increasingly the Business Improvement Districts set up to help many of them - continue to attract the headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
A recent report from the well respected Colliers International talks of many of the issues facing the industry - from business rates to planning. And in the last few weeks, several Business Improvement Districts have come under fire for under-performance against their promises and business expectations.
Increasing numbers of shoppers across Britain shop online. Why? It is convenient. It is easy. It is perceived to be cheap. We can opt in/out of buying from those we like/dislike. We can like, follow and interact with our favourite brands. We can recommend and refer. We can share. We can comment, question, praise, complain. It is ALL in the very palm of our hand.
Shoppers increasingly turn their backs on our High Streets. Why? For all the opposites: it is no longer as convenient. It is perceived as more costly. We are stuck with the retail offer that is there - like it or not. We can't like, follow or interact with that destination. Communication is one way. There's no one to reply to our comments, to answer our questions. We might praise or complain ... but who is listening - let alone responding. The High Street is precisely nowhere when it comes to digital and social media interaction with customers.
But it can be.
The use of the Internet - and in particular responsive digital and social media channels - can turn the tide for High Streets. It can make them convenient. It can convey their cost effectiveness. It can demonstrate the breadth and depth of the offer. It can allow customers to like, follow and interact with their chosen destination. It can provide two-way communication, 365 days of the year. It can reply to comments, answer questions, acknowledge praise and deal with complaints. It can connect the community. The High Street can be in the palm of customers' hands.
Research in Q1 of this year by DestinationCMS looked at a range of major shopping destinations in Britain. Over 90% have websites that do not function properly on a mobile (despite more than 50% of all online traffic being from hand-held devices). Not one has a comprehensive listing of their businesses' offers and promotions - and not one operates effective social media engagement seven days-a-week. That is because they do not understand what their customers want nor what their retailers and businesses need. Of those trying to get to grips with it - hats off to them - but they do not have the skillset, time or resource to deliver it.
I have been working in with retail destinations for more than 20 years. Digital and social media communication has the ability to level the playing field for High Streets in town and city centres ... if used correctly. My work over the last three years helped to launch Mall-to-Mobile - a platform that enables shopping centres to communicate with customers 365 days-of-the-year.
It has been working for forward-thinking shopping destinations that adopted the service in 2012, day in, day out. The same service is now available for town and city centres.
My message of 'jam today' jars with many in the industry. I accept, this is not a panacea ... but it is action that can be taken now. It does not rely on Government policy, referendum outcomes, changes in legislature - all of which will take years. It is simple action that can affect communities now, providing shoppers with what they want and retailers with what they need, 365 days-of-the-year.