Web-based tools to promote a high street

High street X-mas decoration in Vienna's historic city centre.

High street X-mas decoration in Vienna’s historic city centre.

by Valentin Schipfer

In my last blog entry  I introduced you to our ongoing project in Potsdam. Together with local stakeholders Inpolis and dieraumplaner are developing an organizational model to continue Potsdam’s shopping street management. Discussing this task in specific LinkedIn groups did not only deliver insight into new models but also into what’s currently being invented in this field. I tried to sum it up for you in this blog entry.

First of all I got in touch with different institutions working on the field of town centre, shopping street, public space or vacancy management like the Association for Town Centre Management, the Town Centre Management Europe, the Local Government Group , the Managing District Centres in Northwest Europe , L’Association du management de centre-ville  or the Insitute for Place Management. They are all sharing useful knowledge and tool-kits to upgrade, revitalize or maintain town centres, shopping streets and public spaces. However, it’s no secret that GB has done most of the research and practices and there is a lot to learn. Still I want to start with two online tools from Salzburg in Austria.

As suggested in 100 ways to help the high street, having a functional, visually pleasing and user-friendly website is a basic requirement for the marketing effort of all town centres. This can transform a town centre from one that is promoted to a few thousand people locally, to a global one. A website can be used to keep people up-to-date with the services on offer and special events taking place. Businesses can contribute to the costs of building and maintaining the website through advertising. A good website would even allow businesses to keep their own offers up-to-date through a content management system.

Screenshot of SalzburgCityHotels' walking map

Screenshot of SalzburgCityHotels’ walking map

Salzburg has gone one step further and has built websites for two branches of business. The regional capital is known for its well-functioning town centre management and for its innovative methods to make costumer’s life easier. In order to connect stakeholders and install local networks Salzburg has set up one website for the historic centre’s hotels and another one for its gastronomy. So how do they work and what’s special about them?

Screenshot of SalzburgCityHotels' jogging map

Screenshot of SalzburgCityHotels’ jogging map

Visiting Salzburg without knowing where to stay at, is no problem anymore. The website contains each local hotel ranging from three stars to five stars offers. Okay, I’ve to admit there is nothing special about that. Almost every small village offers this service nowadays. What is innovative in my eyes though, are the website’s interactive maps. In order to find the right hotel these maps show you how many minutes it takes to walk to different spots in town. Another category offers a selection of routes for joggers – also downloadable as GPS tracks. As transport considerations are among some of the most important for town centres, yet another map depicts the city’s parking possibilities.

Screenshot of Salzburg's business lunch calendar

Screenshot of Salzburg’s business lunch calendar

The business lunch calendar is another hint for Salzburg’s stakeholder cooperation. In my eyes it is the town centre management’s most innovative tool. The calendar connects all restaurants offering a daily business lunch and makes them visible here.  It provides each gastronomy with a unique login so they could update their own business lunch each day. Besides that it shows the user whether the restaurant has an outdoor area or a Wi-Fi hotspot and whether it accepts town centre loyalty cards. The calendar also provides information whether costumers of the listed restaurants are free of parking fees. In my eyes it is not only a helpful tool for everybody working in the historic centre but also for visiting people – and above all it promotes the town centre’s gastronomy.

Impression of SoTempting's forthcoming virtual town centre map

Impression of SoTempting’s forthcoming virtual town centre map

The next example is currently being developed in Great Britain. Social entrepreneur Michael Lewis hopes to go live with his virtual town centre open for social shopping in 2012’s third quarter. It is called SoTempting and it’s technology should raise awareness of local retailers. Together with the other developers Lewis hopes to drive shoppers to town centres and provide retailers with strategies, technology and coordination to thrive in a rapidly moving retail space. SoTempting is a virtual high street for the residents and for retailers. Customers log in, enter their postcode and see the signed-up shops. They can then walk up and down each street where the shop-fronts look exactly like the corresponding shops on the high street. Retailers can even style their online stores. Walking into these virtual stores, you can see retailers advertising what they have to offer, be it brand new stock or deals. On the costumer side SoTempting offers a level of personalization and control that keeps users engaged. Customers can choose how they want to keep up to date with what’s available and happening in their high street. In my opinion a new way of social shopping with local relevance and an innovative tool for town centre managers.

Impression of SoTempting's forthcoming virtual high street

Impression of SoTempting’s forthcoming virtual high street

But what do in case of vacancies and lacking retailers? A British company called Shopjacket got their answer for this problem. They design, supply and fit printed panels to it in order to create 3D illusion of a shop. Their selection of shops ranges from bakeries, florists, butcheries, delicatessen, restaurants, clothes boutiques, hair salons and others.

An example of a shopjacket in Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire

An example of a shopjacket in Dumbarton in West Dunbartonshire

These shopjackets are bespoke and designed to be sympathetic to the surrounding area and the shop front to be transformed. Shopjackets can be reused which makes it easy for use between short term lets. In addition each panel incorporates a discrete viewing portal to allow potential clients to view the empty shop interior. The video below shows a shopjacket transformation.

I hope you enjoyed this small summary of creative tools for town centre managements. Maybe they’ve even inspired you to do something similar and strengthen local economies. In case I find out more, be it during my research be it in LinkedIn discussions, I’ll let you know as soon as possible. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

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6 Responses to Web-based tools to promote a high street

  1. you are definitely missing a lot by not referencing the “Main Street” approach as developed by the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the U.S. The model focuses on four emphases for systematic improvement of the commercial district, promotion being one. There are a variety of printed materials, conferences, etc., from the NMSC, but also from the various local affiliates.

    While you are right to emphasize web developments for example, the reality is that traditional commercial districts have a variety of segments, and such webpages and directories only reach a few of the segments.

    Over the years I have written quite a bit about these issues ranging from community branding, independent business development and retail entrepreneurship, to how businesses are operated, marketed, cross-promoted, and the impact of the physical conditions and perceptions of a commercial district and how this relates, +/- , to individual stores.

    I will check out your 100 ways.

  2. valentinschipfer says:

    Dear Richard. Many thanks for writing and for your hint to the Main Street approach. I am scrolling through its website right now and it looks as if there is much to discover. Regarding the blog entry it was my aim to show web tools for high streets. Where can I find your publications?

    • The Main Street Approach generally is volunteer based, rather than staff driven, and works to add volunteer energy of residents and other stakeholders to the efforts of merchants, who hopefully are already motivated.

      What the Main Street Approach figured out is that typically traditional commercial districts don’t have “managers” but shopping malls do. (The first place that figured this out was Corning, NY, which hired a “downtown manager” in the early 1960s–innovation takes a long time to diffuse.)

      And that merchants, while good at managing and marketing their own business (hopefully) aren’t necessarily positioned properly to manage and market the commercial district as a whole, to recruit businesses for vacant properties, etc.

      (This can actually be quite frustrating, because residents “naturally” defer to merchants, yet the merchants may not be best practice in terms of store operations and marketing.)

      This particular entry from my blog is a summary, with links to many previous entries. Although I will say they are more focused on planning aspects.

      http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2007/06/retail-action-strategy.html

      Although I am proud of this concept too:

      http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/07/daypart-and-age-group-planning-in-mixed.html

      which is developed more in this plan which I did a few years ago:

      http://www.cambridgemainstreet.com/index.php?page=Market-Analysis-2009

      As far as building business–more customers in stores, the Main Street model includes one leg, promotion, with three elements: special events (I add programming to this), retail business promotion, and marketing the commercial district as a distinct unit.

      Marketing the commercial district includes some of the things you mentioned, like a website, directory, (I am really big on block by block wayfinding).

      For me retail business promotion comes down to leveraging all cross marketing opportunities, e.g., promotions and information to hair salon customers so they know about stores in a district; having a directory of the commercial district delivered with home delivery food orders like pizza, florists working with home stores, table tents about the commercial district on the cafeteria dining tables in the cafeteria of the local college, etc.

  3. valentinschipfer says:

    Thanks for all these interesting links with links and more links. I’ll definitely go through them as soon as possible. I am already keen to read more about how you refer to Jane Jacobs in the first link.

  4. sorry, when doing a search, I found something totally unrelated (something that referenced my work, and I got off track),

    http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2008/01/indepependent-retail-businesses-can.html

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