Online present- buying triggers retail revolution

Science Minister David Willetts
Science Minister David Willetts
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RETAILERS’ results from the crucial Christmas shopping period show a revolution is underway on the high street, a Yorkshire expert claimed yesterday, as new figures revealed more consumers bought their presents online than ever before.

Science Minister David Willetts responded to the new pressure on the high street by launching an £8 million fund to back new technology which bridges the gap between online and bricks-and-mortar stores.

The British Retail Consortium said web sales in December were up almost a fifth on the same month in 2012 following a string of results from retailers suggesting those with the best online offerings had emerged as the big winners from Christmas 2013.

Cathy Barnes, professor of retail innovation at Leeds Metropolitan University said: “I think we’ve learned that the status quo we have had for the last five or six years in terms of large footfalls in stores in the few weeks prior to Christmas and January sales starting and December and retailers who start the sales early making the most money - all those paradigms retailers have been used to have been thrown out of the window.

“What we have seen is there is a revolution happening on the high street. People are increasingly trusting online shopping and they are trusting it for Christmas.

“Before people might have worried their goods would not arrive in time but the logistics are in place now so that we have confidence to buy online.

“The winners this Christmas were the ones that held their nerve, didn’t discount early and had a good offer across their different channels.”

The Government’s latest effort to improve the fortunes of the traditional high street is a multi-million competion to try and bring new technology to the shopping experience.

Run by the taxpayer-funded Technology Strategy Board, it will give funding companies who believe they can develop technology that encourages more people into shops or improves the wider high street experience by tackling problems such as finding a car parking space.

Mr Willetts said: “Technology plays a vital role in people’s everyday lives and has the ability to influence our movements and shopping habits.

“This competition will encourage exciting new developments that could change the way business is done across our high streets. Giving shoppers and businesses real time information that they can use to their advantage will make a real difference in helping to boost the UK economy.”

In a sign of the political importance of the high street, Labour has recruited former Wickes and Iceland boss Bill Grimsey to tour the country to examine the problems facing retailers.

Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said: “I’m pleased that Bill Grimsey will be helping us talk to employers and employees about our business rates cut and to understand the challenges they face.

“Bill and other members of our advisory group will bring huge experience and help us listen to as many businesses as possible about what they need to grow and how we can support the high street.”