Bringing Big Data to Small Users (#BDSU) is a collaborative research and development project led by retail intelligence specialists, Springboard, and involving the Institute of Place Management, Manchester Metropolitan University, Cardiff University, MyKnowledgeMap, and other key partners.

It is seeking to develop effective tools that enable policy makers, retailers, retail property owners, and local partnerships to use data to make informed and collaborative decisions about the future of town and city centres. The project is co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK's innovation agency.

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LATEST

A new classification for UK towns and cities based on activity has been identified by the project. UK centres fall into one of four types based on patterns of annual footfall (ped count). These are comparison, holiday, speciality and convenience/community. We think understanding this has profound significance for the future of a centre. Read more about the new classfication here.

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Town and city centres have changed in many ways over the years in response to technological, societal and other advances, not least the development of out of town shopping. That change continues as the UK leads the world in its adoption of online retailing. This growth is rapid and it is difficult to foresee with any degree of certainty what it will mean for the future of town and city centres, and potentially for society as a whole. Will all centres be equally impacted or will change vary depending on the scale and nature of the centre? What impact does a centre’s location, both geographic and in relation to other centres, have? Does the size and nature of its catchment matter? What other factors might make some centres better suited to thrive in the future? There are many similar questions.

#BDSU builds on work already undertaken by several of the partners in the High Street UK 2020 (HSUK2020) project which was part funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and which identified 201 factors from the academic literature and feedback from 10 partner towns that have an impact on town centre vitality and viability. HSUK2020 worked with experts using the Delphi technique to rank these factors in order to identify which are the 25 most significant in terms of impacting town centre health and being subject to local initiation or control.

HSUK2020 was also able to look at footfall (pedestrian flow) data provided by Springboard for 65 town and city centre locations across the UK gathered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, over a 30-month period. Analysis of this data revealed that not all centres are used in the same way and some distinct footfall signatures could be detected. This was important as it suggests that towns used in different ways may need different initiatives to maintain their vitality and viability. This data also suggested that towns with more defined signatures were more robust in terms of maintaining footfall.

#BDSU now wants to develop evidence-based forecasting tools that can be used by retailers, the retail property industry, local authorities and town centre partnerships and policy makers to enable better decision making in respect of town and city centres. The project will facilitate and quantify the value of collaboration, demonstrating the relationship between collective customer experience and individual retail performance through a new, easy-to use, simulated interface (a 'footfall optimiser'), that brings information on town type, customer experience, customer demographics, etc. to individual decision makers, from retailers to place managers, enabling them to adjust their operations to meet local preferences, optimising both the customer experience and their own business performance.  Algorithms and equations developed in the research stage of the project will be used to develop software that will predict and monitor the impact of interventions (such as changes to car-parking charges, opening hours, or resident population, etc.) on customer experience levels.  This will bring complicated data analysis techniques to all town centre stakeholders, so that they can collectively decide strategies and interventions to optimise performance.

The project is analysing all of Springboard’s footfall data, covering a 10 year period in more than 100 locations as well as other available data to test the findings of the HSUK2020 research on a larger scale and in more detail. #BDSU will also work with 7 locations (Ayr, Ballymena, Bristol, Congleton, Holmfirth, Morley and Wrexham) to gather footfall, retail sales, vacancy levels and other data and to see how responsive or otherwise these are to initiatives undertaken in those centres. Throughout the project we will be working with a number of user groups to refine our thinking and support product development. The user groups will be drawn from on retail, retail property, policy and towns.

The project started on 1st August 2016 and runs for two years. We will be posting regular updates throughout the course of the programme. If you would be interested in participating in a user group meeting or if you want more detail on the project, please contact IPM Director Simon Quin via simon@placemanagement.org