Social scientists to work with retailers to improve the British high street

A team of academics is to help retailers make better use of social science research.

January 22, 2012

The ‘Retail Navigator Team’, established by the Economic and Social Research Council, will talk to shops to find out how existing and new research could help their businesses.

The researchers selected for the panel are Kim Cassidy, Sheilagh Resnick and Paul Whysall, all from Nottingham Business School.

The panel will talk to retail chief executives, trade associations and business publications. The project would be of use to “large and small” businesses including charity shops, Professor Resnick said.

One of the things retailers were interested in was the regeneration of British high streets, called for in a recent review by broadcaster and self-styled “queen of shops” Mary Portas.

They were interested in “how they might help to regenerate the high street with different offerings”, such as smaller branches rather than huge out-of-town supermarkets, Professor Resnick said.

Other areas in which social science could help shops included “creativity and innovation in the supply chain”, social media, ethical shopping, and how to sell goods on both the high street and online.

An example of previous research that could help retailers is an ethnographic study by David Evans, a sociologist at the University of Manchester, who went into people’s homes to look at the processes that led to food being thrown out.

Dr Evans said that households “would certainly end up wasting less if food were to be made available in different quantities”.

“There exists an imperative to eat fresh and so perishable food but very often our busy lives prevent us from using it before it goes off.

“And so if people were able, for example, to more readily purchase half a broccoli floret instead of a whole one – this might help,” he said.

The ESRC project will last for a year and will consider creating databases for retailers and establishing a new thinktank.

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