The Digital High Street Advisory Board has announced a five-year strategy to reinvigorate the UK’s high streets.
It includes ambitious targets to connect town centres to mobile, broadband and wifi, and improve the digital skills of small business owners by 2020.
The strategy was launched alongside a new report which claims that small business owners are missing out on key sales by failing to meet customers’ digital expectations.
Around 60% of adults currently use a mobile phone or tablet to access the internet on the go, but only half of small businesses and charities have their own websites and 31% are lacking basic online skills.
According to the report, digital technology could unlock £18.8bn of revenue for SMEs, while reducing their costs by up to 20% and increasing customer satisfaction and retention.
John Walden, chief executive of the Home Retail Group, and chairman of The Digital High Street Advisory Board, said: “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.”
Key recommendations include improved infrastructure and connectivity standards for town centres by 2020. These include improved broadband speeds, 4G available from multiple operators to 98% of the population and clear public access WiFi standards.
The board also wants to develop a Basic Digital Skills programme to eliminate the current digital skills gap and ensure that all individuals, SMEs and the voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors have basic digital skills.
The Digital High Street Advisory Board was established in April 2014 to further the work of the Future High Street Forum - formed by the Department of Communities and Local Government in 2013 to better understand the competition town centres across the country face.