One of the biggest opportunities...but also challenges...facing town centres is the growth in online shopping. Canny retailers are responding by creating brick and click environments, where goods can be purchased online and picked up in-store (click & collect), or their own websites are encouraging people to come in and visit the store itself, relying on a great customer experience to keep them coming into town.
Even the smallest of retailers can now afford to have a simple website where people can find out about the great products and services they have to offer and purchase goods on line. A simple website should be a perquisite for any local businesses, all of which should then feed into your own town centre website and business profiles. Simple things like opening hours, contact information and a location map are really important to convert someone curiously browsing online into someone buying in store. These are the things people check before setting off on a 'trip to town'.
Many town centre and tourism websites now allow businesses to make time limited special offers (e.g. free bottle of wine with a meal) through a ‘Content Management System’ where each business is provided with a unique login so they can up-date their own section as often as they like. Special offers can help to lift trade at quiet times, launch a new product, or attract a new customer who might have gone elsewhere.
Some town centres are also pooling resources to offer a town shopping portal that links to the individual sites for each retailer and even a home delivery service on the behalf of all locally based businesses. The portal can be funded by an ‘affiliate’ system where every transaction that goes through the site pays a small percentage towards its upkeep. With a bit of ingenuity town centres can meet the challenges of internet retailing head on. The big thing that the high street has to offer over the internet is real life experience, so make sure that your customers have a great experience when they visit your town centre.