In-person shopping reaches a junction

Building economically sustainable high streets in the digital era

As more of us shop online, effective use of digital channels can really help high street businesses to thrive, but many have a very limited digital presence.

Dr Ellis-Chadwick’s research underpins The High Street Digital Index, a tool that measures the extent and economic significance of high street retailers’ use of digital channels.

Local authorities in Leicestershire and Warwickshire are using the Index to evaluate and enhance the high street performance of more than 10,000 businesses, shape business skills training, inform regional development plans, and support funding bids.

Our impact

Working with the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG)

  • In 2014, Ellis-Chadwick was invited to join the DCLG’s Digital High Street Steering Group.
  • She was then asked to produce the necessary measurement methodology to develop the Group’s Digital High Street Health Index.
  • She has also provided training for the DCLG around the impact of digital channels on the high street, and chaired a Public Policy Forum on Digital High Streets.

Digital shop-front training

  • In partnership with domain registry Nominet UK, Ellis-Chadwick identified the many disconnected UK high street businesses (≈30%) and encouraged the organisation to create a training guide for them.
  • Nearly 10,000 copies of Why your business needs to have a website and four easy steps to getting started (2018) have been distributed, and it is available online for free (5,500 downloads by December 2020).

The Index in action

  • Working with DCLG and two LEPs, Ellis-Chadwick led a four-year implementation in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, involving around 10,000 businesses.
  • The two County Councils have adopted the Index as part of their strategic development planning and to inform business training, especially amongst SMEs.
  • There has been a marked reduction in the number of disconnected businesses in both areas and a significant rise of sophisticated online shopfronts.

The research

Dr Ellis-Chadwick’s research is unique – offering a novel insight into the evolution of what is now a global commercial phenomenon.

Exploring the changing landscape, over the past 20 years, she initially captured insights about the potential of Internet technologies for high street retailers. As use developed, she went on to examine how online activity can drive business success.

More recently – drawing on real-time big data sources – she has created a business model for developing the digital economy at town and city levels that also assesses the status of an area’s digital economy.

Crucially, her work has highlighted significant gaps between the skill sets of large and small businesses – with the latter lagging significantly behind. In some areas, less than 20% of businesses have an online presence.

Her expertise has supported the DCLG as well as the Digital High Street Steering Group to equip UK high street business communities with the tools and skills needed to remain competitive.

The strongest value of this research has been in enabling our towns to improve the digital skills of their retailers – targeting the right people with the right support.

Helen Harris Economic Growth Manager - Leicestershire County Council

Research funders

  • Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership
  • Leicestershire County Council
  • Warwickshire County Council

Development partners

  • Leicestershire County Council
  • Warwickshire County Council
  • Department for Communities and Local Government Digital High Street Steering Group
  • Nominet UK

Meet the experts

Photograph of Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

Dr Fiona Ellis-Chadwick

Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Retailing