Failure of Portas Towns can be linked to poor digital activity revealed by The UK Digital Influence Index

It has been revealed this week that the “Portas Pilot” towns of Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Greater Bedminster, Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton, who have seen a net loss of 969 retail units over the five years, also have a low “Digital Influence” ranking. Meaning their combined digital activity ranks amongst some of the lowest in towns and cities across the UK.

Data from Forrester and Deloitte reveals that close to 40% of all OFFLINE sales are now influenced by a digital interaction. Digital influenced sales now exceed pure play e-commerce sales 3:1 and this ratio is set to grow, with social media playing an increasingly significant role in each customer’s purchase journey.

Further analysis of the Portas Towns, by Polly Barnfield, OBE who runs the Digital High Street campaign called #WDYT (What do you think?) reveals that they have one common trait; all Portas Towns have a low ranking in the UK Digital Influence Index.

The UK Digital Influence Index of 1300 UK towns and cities is one of the significant outputs from the business-led and Government supported #WDYT campaign. The campaign was initiated by Gfirst LEP  demonstrates how towns that increase their Digital Influence also increase their physical footfall.

The Index measures the social media activity of 150,000 retailer venues. ‘Digital influence’ is an increasingly valuable asset in any Town or Cities infrastructure. This index provides both qualitative and quantitative data that will help all UK High Streets better understand the impact of their digital activity and investment.

By comparison to Portas Town Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Tewkesbury who were early adopters of the campaign have seen sizeable increases in their Digital Influence, with both Cheltenham and Gloucester now both boosting rankings within the top 12 Towns in the country.

Dr. Diane Savory OBE DL Chair Gfirst LEP who initiated the Digital High Street pilot says:

“You have to ask the question…does the fact that less than half the retailers in seven the “Portas Pilot”  towns were active on social media have any bearing on the poor performance of this Pilot? It’s imperative that every town takes an active interest in its digital health, because “digital influence”  is a tool that every retailer, town and city needs to embrace as part of their core infrastructure”.

Stafford town centre has seen a sustained  22% weekly increase in footfall for over 6 months since they launched the #WDYT campaign. That have also risen 93 places in the Index to be the 23rd most digitally active town in the UK.

Ms. Barnfield says that:

‘We see a clear link between digital activity and physical footfall. Shoppers increasingly start their journey online. Every town and city in the UK is now a sum of its digital parts. It’s key that High Street businesses become more pro active digitally – and that starts with social media. This campaign led approach has proven to be a great catalyst to getting business to accelerate their ability to engage with customers digitally”.

Retailers from within the #WDYT  pilot towns are keen to reveal the impact that increasing digital activity has had on their business.

Sophie Scarrott from Keith Scarrott shoes, an independent shoe retailer in Cheltenham says

“Since we have been involved in this pilot I have seen how digital channels can support my High Street business. My offline and online sales have grown significantly and we now communicate via an extended, social media-driven shop window.  This means I have new ways to serve my customers and to stay front of mind. Digital channels are helping me grow my business and drive local footfall, it’s not one or other channel, my customers expect both.”

Nathanael Arrowsmith from Treasure Seekers, an independent gift shop in Gloucester says

“This campaign has given us the tools and support needed to significantly up our digital output and we are delighted with the positive results it delivers to our new and expanding Gloucester store,”

Jason Smith, Chief Executive of Marketing Gloucester, said:

“The #WDYT campaign is a catalyst to enabling collaboration in our city. It demonstrates how you can use social media and digital channels to drive high street footfall. And is proving to be an essential part of the jigsaw in the development of Gloucester as a pathfinder for digital high street and smart city solutions.”

The UK Digital Influence Index measures the digital output of over 1,300 towns and cities based on the social media activity of over 150,000 retailers venues. ‘Digital influence’ is an increasingly valuable asset in any Town or City’s infrastructure. All UK retailers, towns and cities are invited to sign up  for their digital ranking report.


The Digital Influence Index compares the digital output of your town against 1,300 other UK towns. This index is updated daily.

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