High Streets - Deal or No Deal?

Our high streets (apparently) attracted 1.4% more shoppers in June this year compared with June 2012. And (drum roll) this trend is growing.

Mary Portas has just headed off on her summer hols. She told us via Ywitter: "I'm heading offline for family holiday and some R&R. Back in a few weeks (if I can keep my trap shut that long) love & happy holidays."

@MaryPortas' Twitter break coincides with the latest figures being published by the British Retail Consortium showing that the warm weather is sending shoppers back to 'traditional shopping venues'. Our high streets (apparently) attracted 1.4% more shoppers in June this year compared with June 2012. And (drum roll) this trend is growing.

Helen Dickinson, GM of the BRC, cites the warm weather as a major factor - and that fashion and footwear were the good guys. Add in the feel good factor of Andy Murray's win at Wimbledon, England's first win in the Ashes series, Chris Frome cycling well in France, reports that the economy is (even if ever-so-slightly) creeping back from the abyss ... maybe all Mary needed were some lucky cards in her pack?

When she returns from her break, Mary will face questions from the select committee for the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The committee will also discuss former Focus boss, Bill Grimsey's, alternative review. The select committee's Q&A session is separate from the select committee for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills' inquiry which is looking into different aspects of the UK retail sector. And then you have the Government's new High Street Forum. So four reviews and prayers for global warming. We'll be OK then.

The progress of Mary's pilots has been criticised for being too slow - and she has been slammed for being too 'showbiz' by making a TV programme out of the project. And now she will be even more in the public spotlight as the DCLG committee is calling on us all to submit questions to Mary over her Government-backed pilots. Perhaps some questions for the Government too wouldn't go amiss?

I'm reminded of the 1980s band, Talk Talk. Today, there is far too much talk. For more than 20 years, I have worked in and around retail, working with shopping destinations across the UK to help them improve their communication with shoppers, and now with a pioneering company called Destination CMS, whose Mall-to-Mobile service is bring shopping destinations into the 21st century. It's (pretty much) my life's work. What happened in the 1990s is unrecognisable from today - and yet we keep getting dealt the same cards: how can we improve the high street?

We could all send in our questions to the select committee with their requested #AskPortas hash tag for their quizzing of the High Street Queen on September 2. I'd encourage everyone to do so (July 30th is the deadline). But I'd also ask everyone to ask 'to what end'? If you have a question that will move the debate forward to a positive conclusion, great. If you have a question that's a joker, one that simply rakes over old ground, then perhaps channel your energies into helping your own local High Street. Mary-bashing is an easy card to play, but it is such a shame that bashing Mary now seems to be taking and making the headlines.

Mary is no 'Dum Dum Girl' (that is the last Talk Talk reference, almost) but she is guilty of not involving more in her industry to help, to mentor, to advise ... and to share the task. It is a massive challenge - and no one person can meet it. No one Government will meet it. It will take a collective and community effort. Crucially, it will involve the shopper. Those with money to spend ... come rain or shine.

Communication opportunities for shoppers, retailers and high streets have changed beyond all recognition in an incredibly short period. In less than five years, we are living in another world - but all we get is more talk from those who should be ready, willing and able to affect change.

There have been 27 Portas Pilots, each awarded £100,000. Hopefully High Streets up and down the country will soon realise that life's what you make it - and you don't need Government hand outs. It would be good if the Government realised that too.

Mary will be asked to show all her cards when she faces the politicians in September. Town and city centres don't need select committee reviews. They don't need the Queen of High Streets. They don't need TV shows or window dressing. They do need to communicate with their customers via the channels their customers choose, seven days-a-week ... listening, sharing and promoting their full offering 365 days-of-the-year.

When they do, it won't just be 'happy holidays' but happy days - year round. That's the ace to play.


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