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High Street Champion says town digital transformation ‘key’ to post-coronavirus recovery

Creating thriving digital high streets and towns is “key to driving economic recovery after coronavirus”, Adrian Emmett, chair of the Treorchy Chamber of Trade has said.

Mr Emmett, who recently led Treorchy to victory in the ‘Great British High Street Awards’ campaign run by the UK government in partnership with Visa, is speaking out following the Welsh Government’s announcement of a £9 million fund supporting economic recovery in town centres.

While he welcomed the announcement, which includes £5.3 million to make town centre adaptions supporting traders and improving public safety, he urged the Welsh and UK Governments to ensure their plans include the digital transformation of towns as lockdown eases.

On the announcement Mr Emmett said: “We welcome today’s significant investment into the recovery and support of town centres as they adapt to life with coronavirus measures in place.

“While we recognise that supporting high street businesses to attract custom and footfall back to town centres is absolutely crucial, we would also call on the Welsh Government to prioritise the digital transformation of towns and local authorities.

“Supporting towns to adopt and utilise digital technology to enhance and promote their physical presence, will be fundamental to enabling them to recover in the coming months as consumer confidence remains stalled and shopping habits are altered irreversibly.

“As our independent stores, local shops, national chains, and all others emerge from this devastating pandemic, we’re beginning to see the extensive impact of this crisis on our retailers.

“Lockdown has seen many retailers transition their offering online overnight in a bid to retain their essential customer base and survive. But while significant strides have been made in digitising the high street, we mustn’t halt progress now that lockdown measures are easing and we must support digital longevity.

“Digital towns are the key to driving Wales’s economic recovery out of coronavirus, and we’d urge the Welsh Government to make this a consideration as they support economic regeneration.”

Mr Emmett has previously championed successful digital transformation, with Treorchy, which claimed the UK-wide award in 2020 and set a standard for recovery in post-industrial towns, now acting as an example of successful digital adoption to local authorities across Wales and the UK.

Alongside Treorchy, Crickhowell was named the Great British High Street Awards’ UK-wide Champion, while Cowbridge claimed success for its Digital Innovation thanks to support from Welsh-based TownTech solution NearMeNow.

Mr Emmett has been working on a roadmap for the digital towns of the future with acclaimed entrepreneur, Victoria Mann, founder of NearMeNow, to bring its vision for digital towns to fruition.

Mr Emmett said: “Wales is in prime position to lead the way on the economic recovery of towns from this pandemic. However, it’s crucial that we listen to town leaders and high street businesses, and that technology and digitisation is prioritised in every aspect of these vital recovery plans.”

The digitisation of high streets has come to the fore in recent months as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Figures reveal a surge in online shopping during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown in March.  According to e-commerce company Wunderman Thompson Commerce, online shopping rose to 62 percent during lockdown, compared with 43 percent before the pandemic struck.

As a result, embracing digitisation has “never been more important than now”, said Ms Mann.

She said: “Now, it is more important than ever that we build on this framework and create truly united, digital local authorities, towns and high streets which will drive sales, and ultimately will be the key to the UK’s economic recovery.

“We are thrilled that our Welsh Government has announced this fund to support the recovery of pandemic-hit high streets, however we think it’s vital that digitisation is considered within their plans to support local authorities in successfully adopting towntech.”

Phase One of NearMeNow’s solution was trialled in Cowbridge and won App of the Year at Wales Online’s Digital Awards, was highly acclaimed at the national Pitch@Palace Awards and has been recognised by Retail Insider as a Top 60 Global Retail Innovation.

NearMeNow was also recently highlighted in the Welsh Government’s Delivering Economic Transformation for a Better Future of Work report, which identified it as a potential solution for the Foundational Economy, helping to “strengthen the presence of the physical shop front both on the high street and in the community”.

The tech solution is now partnering with the UK Champion High Street and working with three local authorities in a bid to drive digitisation in their towns. The team is in discussions with key stakeholders across the Cardiff Capital Region and Welsh Government to inform digital integration.

On NearMeNow’s innovative plans, Ms Mann said: “We’re delighted to be supporting local authorities across Wales to introduce meaningful and lasting change to their digital high street infrastructure, which will enhance their profitability and prosperity going forwards.

“As a TownTech which has been working tirelessly on digitising Wales’s high street for a number of years, we are ideally placed to offer support to local authorities looking to secure business futures.

“Digital high streets have a fundamental role to play in this unprecedented, challenging retail economy, so it is imperative the Welsh Government prioritises this in their recovery plans.”

Recognised by Retail Insider as a Top 60 Global Retail Innovation, NearMeNow allows businesses that share the same geographical space to combine their digital efforts into one consumer-facing app, that creates a truly interactive, searchable, community experience.