New initiative will research ways to support the British retail sector

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pleased to announce funding of the flagship Retail Sector Initiative. The initiative will support a wide range of collaborative projects, with businesses such as M&S and Waitrose, working alongside social and economic researchers to undertake research and knowledge exchange activities.

Neighbourhoods rely on the retail sector as a provider of employment and skills development, with the local town centre a focal point for community activity. However, in recent years the sector has been through many changes; the speed and impact of technological innovation, the changing nature of the UK high street and the global economic slowdown have all had dramatic effects.

This new initiative will drive innovation, growth and efficiency in the retail sector by:

• stimulating and supporting innovations in e-commerce, m-commerce and omni-commerce, to maintain and strengthen the UK's position as a global leader in internet retailing
• promoting and enabling innovations in the use of ‘big data’, providing insights into consumer behaviour
• developing a greater understanding of the changing nature of the UK High Street and retail spaces.

Thirty five businesses will be working with leading social and economic scientists, ranging from large multinational companies including M&S and Waitrose; to SMEs such as Hatton’s Model Railways and Blueclaw Conversations.

ESRC are investing £1.5 million in the Retail Sector Initiative and is working closely with the Technology Strategy Board who are part funding two of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) projects. Including business contributions to the project costs the Retail Sector Initiative represents a substantial £4.7 million investment for the sector.

Projects include the 'e-resilience of British Retail Centres', led by Dr Alex Singleton from the University of Liverpool who is working with a business called the Local Data Company.  The project will explore the extent to which retail centres are exposed to consumers who use information and communication technologies, especially virtual retail channels.

Professor Kim Cassidy will act as coordinator for the Retail Sector Initiative, developing and leading a programme to facilitate knowledge exchange between the sector and the academic researchers.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

"High streets and town centres play a vital role in supporting communities and boosting local growth. We live in a world that is increasingly reliant on digital technology. This research funding will make sure that the UK’s high streets and retailers are best placed to take advantage of new opportunities in digital services, logistics and transport links."

ESRC Chief Executive Paul Boyle said:

"As the UK recovers from recession, and attention turns to how sustainable growth can be built at local, regional and national levels, the importance of research into the position of retail and how the sector might meet the challenges and opportunities of the future becomes ever more important.

The Knowledge Exchange projects and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships funded under the Retail Sector Initiative will help the ESRC in their efforts to build collaborative activities with the private sector and help business to access academic expertise so that academic research is better placed to boost business.

The ESRC Retail Sector Initiative is an important step for the ESRC in building collaborative activities with the private sector, and is part of its commitment to encourage research that directly affects business."

09 December 2013