9 Digital Ways to Modernise the High Street

Interactive kiosk

The digital high street revolution could force one in three high street businesses to close in the next decade. So what technologies should communities adopt today to avoid being swallowed up by the trends.

1. Free wi-fi

People have become accustomed to plugging into free wi-fi at shops, eateries, libraries or community spaces to keep up to date with email, social media and news on the go.

Because mobile data coverage can be unreliable in many parts of the UK, free public or town-wide wi-fi is popular with shoppers, visitors and business owners.

In fact, free wi-fi is seen as an essential upgrade for most towns and cities where local traders have voted to become Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). In smaller locations like Chipping Norton, voluntary town teams, business owners and wi-fi providers are joining forces to make free wi-fi a reality.

It’s now a common sight in high streets and rural centres everywhere to witness people keeping in touch on on their mobile devices – and it doesn’t cost them a penny.

On the map below, you’ll find hundreds of population centres around the UK with little or no mobile data coverage on 3G networks, let alone 4G which enables super fast broadband download speeds. Take a look at all the red  spots outside London’s M25. All these areas have weak signals or very little coverage at all.

As well as attracting shoppers and visitors keen to access the free internet connection, public wi-fi provides place makers and businesses with important data and marketing information.

Email addresses can be captured when visitors sign in to the service, providing the opportunity for on-the-spot promotions as well as providing a marketing list for future contact.

Visitors can also be surveyed regarding their town experience, with feedback collected about what they liked and disliked, what was missing and what they want more of.

The value of the feedback, data and potential for targeted marketing can outweigh the cost of wi-fi infrastructure and maintenance.

In our public wi-fi section, we’ll examine how town wi-fi works, its benefits and nominate the best providers in the country.

Public event

2. Footfall tracking

A variety of devices currently exist to track footfall in British businesses, including beam counters and in-store thermal and video systems.

These can anonymously measure the number of people entering a shop, where they go once inside and whether they are repeat visitors.

Technology is now available to measure the number of visitors coming to town centres, the frequency of their visits, and their movements within the town once they get there.

The most sophisticated and accurate town tracking software available detects wi-fi enabled devices, regardless of whether they are connected to the internet.

The technology can be used both indoors and outdoors, tracking the movement of wi-fi enabled devices within a shop or individual business as well as in large outdoor and public spaces.

This footfall tracking technology provides comprehensive real-time data distinguishing between new and repeat town visitors, with heat maps showing dwell times, density and how often people visit specific venues.

Ideal to record the success of public events and which acts and stalls are attracting the most attention.

Come back to read our expanded report on footfall tracking technology in the coming weeks to learn everything you need to know about footfall tracking.

Mobile phones background. Pile of different modern

3. Data analytics and live engagement

Collecting data via footfall tracking systems is the first step.

The real value of the data, once collected, lies in what it tells BID managers, place makers and businesses about the preferences and behaviour of town visitors – what they like, the places they avoid and how they can most successfully be marketed to.

Collection of email addresses allows business to craft targeted email and Facebook marketing campaigns as well as promotional material, advertising and surveys about the visitor experience.

It is also possible to communicate with visitors in real time during town events, offering promotions, competitions and other incentives to come back to the town for an event or other attractions in the future.

So don’t miss our detailed insights into how analysing big data and engaging with live audiences can play a huge role in the success of events, which is a major visitor drawcard for most UK villages, towns and cities.

4. Touch screen town kiosks

While interactive touch screens are already being used in various business settings such as bus stops, hotels and fast food outlets, the UK’s first central town kiosk is currently in the planning pipeline for the Cotswold town of Chipping Norton.

The digital information kiosk, produced by Elephant WiFi, will act as a wi-fi hotspot and simultaneously incorporate touch screen technology.

It will offer town business, both large and small, an opportunity to advertise promotions, attractions, landmarks, events and local news to residents and visitors.

Our review of the prototype, which is in development, will be out soon. Subscribe to our newsletter by providing your contact details in the red form at the bottom of this page to be the first to find out about its launch.

Young female tourist using smart city gadget to get direction in Barcelona central, female in night city standing front big digital screen with city map routes and locations shown on it,filtered image

5. Proximity trigger technology for retail

Also known as shopper beacons, proximity triggers allow participating shops or businesses to detect customers as they approach and trigger the sensor beacon.

Customers have to ‘opt in’ by downloading the retailer’s mobile app. They then receive targeted promotions, advertisements or news directly to their phone when their proximity to the shop triggers the beacon.

This allows businesses to tailor marketing campaigns to suit specific customers as well as offering faster checkout and attractive loyalty programs.

Proximity triggers rely on customers using a dedicated app for specific brands and retailers, which can be inconvenient for the consumer who likes to shop across many product offerings.

Facebook Bluetooth beacons help overcome this barrier. They are free for business to adopt, allowing customers to see a range of information via a Facebook notification whenever they visit participating stores. Let’s face it, nearly everyone is connected to their Facebook account as they carry their mobile phone.

Beacons can also be used to replace hotel keys, offer seat upgrades at sporting fixtures and improve the customer experience at airports, public transport hubs and corporate events.

This technology is rapidly evolving. Check back into our blog soon for the full report. Or download the eBook when it’s available.

Bicester Village

6. Proximity trigger technology for tourism

Visitors traditionally read text from a sign or plaque when visiting museums, art galleries, zoos, exhibitions and special events.

Proximity triggers for tourism, otherwise known as mobile tourist attraction technology, allow visitors to watch high-definition video streamed directly from on-site servers or over the internet via wi-fi infrastructure.

When a visitor approaches, the proximity sensor is triggered. Visitors can download the text, graphics or video via tablets hired at the venue or on their own devices, also allowing ongoing interaction when the visitor has left.

See who’s using this digital technology best and how as we reveal the most popular places in Britain that already have it.

7. 360 photography and video

Marketing space in terms of virtual reality is getting busier, with new and more sophisticated offerings appearing. It’s useful to examine the various products and what they can do.

Virtual tours allow visitors to take a 360 immersive wander around a shop, house, venue or public space, viewed on their hand held device or computer. Visitors can guide themselves or take the tour via an automatic fly-through.

As of 2016, Facebook 360 photography and video is available to anyone. Most smartphones now work with Facebook’s 360-degree viewer, allowing users to upload 360 interactive photos and videos to Facebook.

Cameras with one to three fish eye lenses which take accurate, high resolution 360 still and video photography of their surroundings are now on the market.

Full 360 video is the latest video platform offering heightened, augmented reality. This places the viewer inside the experience, allowing them to look around themselves, and has big implications for the tourist, real estate, retail and sporting markets, among others.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a while, you’d be aware of the Pokemon Go craze that’s sweeping the globe. Check back soon to see our wrap of the best uses of 360 video, photography and augmented reality.

Man using his phone in the street

8. Mobile apps

A variety of mobile apps exist which allow towns to advertise their shops, businesses, what’s on listings, events, attractions, weather, news and messages, with visitors able to download the app for free via their hand held device.

Apps can also be developed as self-guided walking and driving tours, allowing visitors to explore a set route via a series of GPS map pins with additional text, images, video and web links.

These showcase various heritage buildings, historic landmarks, town attractions and countryside trails, with business, retail and hospitality outlets highlighted along the route.

Tour apps are ideal for people wanting to find their own way around theme parks, exhibition centres, museums, art galleries, universities and towns.

Apps can also be used for themed events, treasure hunts, competitions and Christmas activities.

Don’t miss our review of the best mobile apps that are helping to put towns, trails and visitor experiences in the palm of people’s hands like never before.

9. Digital window displays

These multi-display options use clear-screen vinyl and reverse image projections to fill empty shop windows.  Multiple digital images show how the window could be used and rejuvenate dull streetscapes at the same time.

Digital window displays can also be used for various advertising and marketing purposes.

As part of our digital high street series, we’ll take a look at the places around the UK which are brightening up their empty shop windows to project a better image to visitors.

But first, we’ll bring you everything you need to know about free public wi-fi.

We’ll reveal the UK locations which have integrated wi-fi with the best big data analytics and digital marketing campaigns to connect with Britain’s consumers while they’re on the move. Coming soon.

Wendy Riley
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Wendy Riley

Editorial Director at Real Towns Limited
I love working with words. As a journalist, blogger, editor and award winning creative writer, I have extensive experience in British and Australian print media and now specialise in digital content. I'm excited to be part of the Real Towns team and proud of our innovative approach.
Wendy Riley
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