Monthly Archives: July 2019

What do the Tory candidates policies mean for the high street

LLB BLog

In the blizzard of spending splurges promised by the two candidates to be our next Prime Minister has been some announcements that could be very significant for High Street retailers. Boris Johnson, the clear favourite, has announced that he wants to introduce 100% business rate relief on free-to-use ATMs to keep as many as possible open in town and city centres to ensure shoppers can withdraw money. He has declared that he wants to curb the closure of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) that has followed the surge in contactless payments.

While this may appeal to shire Tories of a certain vintage the trouble is the Boris approach is as feasible as owning a unicorn. In a contactless world, less and less people are drawing out cash when you can tap a card or your phone. The subsidies he is proposing would not allow for the cash machine to be free as it still needs to be maintained, filled, connected and bank charges apply which make the model loss making for any operator especially if it is used infrequently. More poppycock from the master of poppycock.

Johnson also talks about wanting ‘a range of bureaucratic and legal barriers to business to be swept away’ to allow high-street shops to flourish. This includes an ‘overhaul of town and country planning laws that mean converting one form of premises ie. a shop, cafe, pub or hot-food takeaway, to another can be a lengthy process’.

One option being considered by Johnson’s team is introducing a new “A” class business category covering shops, financial and professional services, restaurants and cafes. The measure would allow existing shops to easily offer additional services.

He also called for the immediate unlocking of a £675m government fund earmarked for sprucing up high streets around Britain. If he becomes prime minister, he plans to announce this summer the towns that have been successful in bidding for shares of the cash.

Although on paper the overhaul of planning laws looks attractive, the problem is planning laws relating to change of use are not in his power to change, neither will £675m go far and how does he propose to choose which towns are more worthy of the fund? As ever with Johnson’s announcements rhetoric trumps reality.

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt has pledged to exempt hundreds of thousands of small businesses from business rates if he becomes Prime Minister. Hunt intends to scrap taxes for nine out of 10 high street shops in a bid to save the high street. The claim is the move will save newly exempted businesses up to £6,500 each and will scrap taxes on 24,500 businesses based in Birmingham (5,000), Manchester (8,000), Leeds (6,000), Newcastle (2,000) and Bristol (3,500).

Hunt said that his government would reform the current Retail Discount rate, so that businesses which qualified for the discount would see their entire business rate bill cancelled. At present, those with a ratable value below £51,000 are eligible for their bill to be cut by one third.

Additionally, one of Hunt’s best trailed policy announcements has been a promise to cut corporation tax from 19% to as low as 12.5%, a policy which has been costed at £13bn a year. His generous spending pledges have seen him receive some flak from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

Hunt the self-proclaimed entrepreneur is certainly more progressive in his thinking and his ideas may just work to support independent traders on the high street who are being strangled by inflated taxes. The corporation rate cut will pay for itself making Britain an attractive base and undoubtedly bring more corporates to base themselves in the UK and with a No Deal Brexit in site, more initiatives like this is what the UK needs to survive.

The trouble is according to all the polling, Hunt has little chance of getting in. Just like the rest of us, it seems High Street retailers had better batten down the hatches as Tory Party members take the ultimate gamble in installing Johnson in to Number 10.

To read the full article please visit London Loves Business.

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How retailers can tap into Edtech

PCR Blog

The UK is leading the adoption of digital technology in education with schools allocated an estimated £900 million in funding from the Department of Education for 2019-20 for Edtech, according of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

In physical terms this equates to 3,392,100 computers in classrooms across the UK with an average primary school having 70 computers and secondary school an average of 431.

There are currently 32,113 schools in the UK. Of these, 20,925 are primary schools and 4,168 are secondary schools. There are 2,381 independent schools, 1,256 special schools and 351 pupil referral units.

The opportunity to expand Edtech sales are obvious for those who know how to tap into this growing market that values accessible technology to equip young minds for a successful ‘digital’ future.

There are also benefits for already stretched schools to help bridge the gap through Edtech – as it’s proven to reduce teacher workload, boost student outcomes and help create a level playing field for those requiring learning support. So much so that the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, set out plans in April this year to support innovation and raise the bar in education establishments across England, backed by £10 million injection.

School funding per pupil is expected to be frozen in real terms between 2017-2018 and 2019-20 albeit at a level of above 4%, reports IFS.

Technology in education allows some students to open up channels of communication and makes learning accessible to all. The target audience is not exclusively schools that have the budget to grow Edtech, it’s also parents, as many public secondary schools employ a BYOD program, therefore parents are expected to buy their child a suitable device. However, this is becoming stricter as previously it was an “any device will do”, approach but due to different devices having different capacities and capabilities, this has changed. Today, school book lists stipulate the minimum requirements for a device to create a more uniform and compatible ecosystem that is hassle free for all.

The retail market for back-to-school is worth, in all categories, some £1.45bn in the UK and is an increasingly important fixture in the retail calendar, becoming competitive for both brands and retailers endeavouring to appeal, in particular, to those students heading off to university.

From PC to projection and display technology such as Jamboard from Google and BenQ, the classroom is a place where technology is the norm, and the standard for students as they transition through their education and eventually into the workplace.

It’s not just about the hardware and software solutions, it’s also about the teachers who need professional development and training to understand how each device could work and how they can add them into their lesson plans. Figures from BETT highlight that 74% (rising from 60% in 2018) of educators surveyed said that educational technology is often not sufficiently easy to use for ordinary teachers. Something that vendors need to be considering as part of their proposition.

The classroom of old is no longer the norm. Education, at all levels, relies heavily on technology and some brands recognise this. Those brands that offer the end-to-end solution that enables education access to the best technology with the easiest interface, least maintenance and highest reliability will capitalise on this growing market.

Chromebook by Google is one of these, Google shared in January 2019 that 30 million Chromebooks are now used in education, up five million from the last reported figures in 2018. Growth has been aided by education systems from around the world choosing to use Chrome OS devices and G Suite cloud based computing solutions that enable collaborative learning accessible whenever you need it. In London the brand has worked with London Grid for Learning to help over 90% of schools across the city bring technology to more students by offering free training in Google Classroom, G Suite and other tools to help improve the digital skills of teachers.

Similarly, Epson has identified that 58% of students cannot read all content on a 70-inch flat panel. Epson’s interactive display solutions provide scalable image size. Having the right sized image for a room can make a huge difference to levels of concentration, enjoyment and understanding.

The DFE in April 2019 published a white paper entitled “Realising the potential of technology in education: A strategy for education providers and the technology industry”. This white paper identified 10 challenges for the industry to assist in eradicating within education, quoting: “To catalyse change in the use of technology across the English education system, we are launching a series of Edtech challenges. They are designed to support a partnership between the Edtech industry and the education sector to ensure product development and testing is focused on the needs of the education system. The challenges are to the industry and the education sector (including academia) to prove what is possible and to inform the future use of Edtech across our education system.”

THESE CHALLENGES ARE:
• Challenge 1: “Improve parental engagement and communication, whilst cutting related teacher workload by up to five hours per term.”
• Challenge 2: “Show how technology can facilitate part-time and flexible working patterns in schools and colleges, including through the use of time-tabling tools.”
• Challenge 3: “Cut teacher time spent preparing, marking and analysing in-class assessments and homework by two hours per week or more.”
• Challenge 4: “Show that technology can reduce teacher time spent on essay marking for mock GCSE exams by at least 20%.”
• Challenge 5: “Identify how anti-cheating software can be developed and improved to help tackle the problem of essay mills.”
• Challenge 6: “Challenge the research community to identify the best technology that is proven to help level the playing field for learners.”
• Challenge 7: “Demonstrate how technology can support schools and teachers to diagnose their development needs and to support more flexible CPD.”
• Challenge 8: “Prove that the use of home learning early years’ apps (both those aimed at parents and those aimed at children) contributes to improved literacy and communication skills for disadvantaged children.”
• Challenge 9: “Widen accessibility and improve delivery of online basic skills training for adults.”
• Challenge 10: “Demonstrate how artificial intelligence can support the effective delivery of online learning and training for adults.”

Whilst the 10 challenges may not apply to all, it enables positive opportunities for all to develop the channel in Edtech initiatives.

Interestingly the DofE chose to release this white paper after the 2019 BETT show, the world largest Edtech event that brings together over 850 Edtech companies and attracting more than 34,000 attendees. I suspect this may lead the conversation at BETT in 2020.

To read the full article please visit PCR.

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Disruption will lead to innovation in our high streets

The Drum Blog

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced in May 2019 that a new £62 million fund will breathe new life into historic high streets across the country. Really? What’s £62m going to do? Unless there’s a momentous shift by Government regarding the business rate issue no £62m fund is going to fix anything or impact the dire straits we find our high streets in.

But here’s the conundrum. Across the country, people still enjoy going shopping. Shops are not going to disappear and 89 percent of UK sales are still generated through physical retail.

Consumers want high streets and businesses want to be there. We can’t give up on our high streets, but we need to fundamentally disrupt the existing model with ideas that address business rate costs head on.

Reigniting imagination on the high street

We need traditional brick and mortar retailers to be imaginative and visionary to make retail work for them and their customers. We haven’t seen enough of this. There’s been some successes where traditional retail chains have introduced successful in-store experiences, from speaker spaces to free cookery classes, to encourage consumers to dwell and soak up the atmosphere.

We’ve also seen successful buy outs where we see anchor brands amalgamate multiple brands under one roof such as Sainsbury’s and Argos (Store within a Store concept – SiS). This has enabled Sainsbury’s to continue trading within the non-food category and remain current without distracting from its core grocery business.

Brand collaborations appear to work well, and this is where I think independent retailers need to deploy more disruptive strategies. Surely independents sharing space makes sense from a financial and marketing perspective and works for all collaborations, whether it’s an anchor brand and SiS or two brands in equal partnership.

Let’s take my local high street, where there is a bookshop with a coffee shop, and this unsurprisingly works well. So why don’t we see such partnerships more often with, say, independent clothes and shoe shops hooking up, cook shops and delis collaborating and complimenting one another and butcher’s, bakeries, greengrocers and florists joining up.

With so many consumers now on a personal quest to do what’s good for the planet, collaborations can really work to bring purpose to the fore and give consumers more choice.

The rise of the ethical high street

For people who are ethically minded, they may prefer to visit collaborations that have similarly aligned values for example, butchers, delis and bakeries that are fully ethically sourced or organic or shoe and clothes shops that won’t use unethical material. Delivering a positive, convenient and alternative shopping experience for people for whom these things are a driving factor in their purchasing decisions will provide an incredible customer service and experience that’s missing right now.

I’ve been in the industry over twenty years so I’m not naive enough to think this is easy, but retail is the most dynamic of industries and it needs to do something before it loses its confidence and high streets forever. I believe it requires a major re-think of the whole supply chain from landlords to legal and introducing new innovations like retail matching services. A service that pairs up independent retailers who are looking for high street shop spaces in particular areas.

There are all sorts of challenges – what happens if one brand is doing well, and the other isn’t, if one wants to sell and one doesn’t? But we’re at an impasse where something drastic needs to happen for us to re-imagine the high street. And drastic means disruption and innovation not more of the same.

To read the full article please visit The Drum.

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