The success of the Portas Town scheme to revive the High Street has been criticised with almost 1,000 shops closing - but social media could be the answer
Retailers in a Devon town that was part of retail guru Mary Portas’ scheme to revive the high street need to get online to entice shoppers, new data shows.
Tiverton in Devon and Liskeard in Cornwall each received £100,000 to fund innovative ways to bring shoppers back into town in the 2012 Government's Portas fund, kickstarted by TV retail champion Mary Portas.
This week, a report by the Local Data Company (LDC) for the BBC Radio 4 You and Yours programme revealed that 12 of the Portas Pilot towns - including Liskeard - had seen a net loss of 969 retail units over the five years with shops selling clothes and electrical goods hardest hit, although the number of empty units has fallen.
Sue Griggs of the Portas Town Company, who spearheaded the funding bid in Tiverton, said she was sad that Portas had never visited the town.
Cllr Griggs said that much had been achieved in Tiverton since the money was granted.
Among the initiatives include the creation of a coach park, starting the CoOperaTIV Shop with local producers in a vacant shop, five of whom went on to occupy their own shops.
It introduced street food to the town for the first time, leading to the award winning Electric Nights food market, started a community radio station, the annual Literary Festival and the medieval fair, The Feast of St James.
She said: “There is definitely a different optimism here now. Before Portas there wasn't much going on and there was a feeling that Tiverton couldn't achieve, well Portas has certainly changed attitudes and there are lots of great things happening with more people making things happen.”
Now, new data shows that an online presence and use of social media could help increase footfall in the high street.
The UK Digital Influence Index, which ranks towns according to how many of its retailers use social media like Twitter and the quantity of their posts reveal that the "Portas Pilot" towns have a poor digital presence.
Tiverton is at 384 of 1300 UK towns on index, with 49% of retailers having a website and 58% being active on social media.
Liskeard ranks at 535 on the list with 49% of its retailers using social media.
Both there is some optimism as both towns have seen their rankings increase. Liskeard is up 244 places and Tiverton is up 43.
The analysis has been carried out by Polly Barnfield, OBE who runs the Digital High Street campaign called #WDYT (What do you think?)
She said: “"We have seen that without doubt towns were local retailers increase their social media activity footfall increases. Towns that are making less digital noise have fewer opportunities to attract customers in. If retailers want to attract customers in, they need to extend their shop window to the digital world. Social Media makes that very easy to do."
The index is part of the Government supported #WDYT campaign, designed to help towns increase their digital influence and in turn boosting footfall.
Some Portas Towns have seen good digital success. Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud and Tewkesbury who were early adopters of the #WDYT 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.
All UK retailers, towns and cities can sign up www.wdyt.org.uk for their digital ranking report.