Places of Phygital Shopping Experiences? The New Supply Frontier of Business Improvement Districts in the Digital Age

This 2021 article examines the strategic and operational placemaking priorities of UK Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) who were involved in government-funded pilot programmes. Based on an analysis of 31 BIDs’ business plans over time, the study finds initiatives around street washing, public realm improvements, security, events, and lobbying are prevalent in the plans. However, tackling broader social issues and digital presence have been under-represented until more recently. The BIDs’ strategic focus is also found to change over their lifespans.

Date added 7 December 2021
Last updated 7 December 2021

This article examines the placemaking priorities that have been incorporated within UK Business Improvement Districts’ (BIDs) business plans over the last 15-years. As the authors explain, to address the complex challenges facing town centres in the UK, including the rise in online shopping, new forms of local governance have emerged to revitalise centres through place-based and collaborative place management approaches; namely, through BIDs – the focus of this article.

The study sought to understand if the strategic and operational priorities of UK BIDs have evolved over their lifespans (i.e. between terms 1 and 4 of the BID etc.) To achieve this, the authors conducted a thematic analysis of 31 BIDs’ business plans – those that were still operational at the time of study and were also part of government-funded pilot schemes. Based on this research, the following key findings are discussed in relation to the current focus of the BIDs evaluated:

  • Most BIDs indicate that street washing/disinfection are key operational activities presently.
  • BIDs are also fairly involved in making public realm improvements, such as greening schemes and flower baskets.
  • Nearly 50% of the BIDs studied recently outlined their commitment to improving accessibility and walkability.
  • BIDs demonstrate extensive concerns about security, safety, and addressing anti-social behaviour within the BID area.
  • BIDs also perform a number of consumer-based and place marketing services, such as putting on events and festivals to create a consumer experience in the BID area.
  • UK former pilot BIDs also play a notable role as influencers, campaigners and lobbyists on behalf of levy payers and acting as local knowledge repositories.
  • An under-represented placemaking aspect identified is around broadening initiatives beyond a focus on satisfying levy payers, to helping to tackle broader social issues such as homelessness.
  • Whilst some BIDs recognised the importance of creating a digital presence, digital place marketing programmes have been under-represented in the BID business plans until more recently.

Regarding the longitudinal changes of BIDs’ strategic focus over time, the following is also discussed in the article:

  • Clean, green and safe initiatives experienced a slight dip in prevalence between BIDs’ first and third terms (-3.9%) but rose between the second and fourth terms (+6.5%).
  • As time goes on, BIDs tend to focus more on strategic priorities, with a shift from more of a focus on decorative lighting and street furniture in term one, to more focus on mobility and street repurposing in term four, for example.
  • Services relating to cleaning, maintenance and environmental sustainability have increased in thematic importance for the BIDs studied over time.
  • Place branding has become less prevalent thematically within the former UK pilot BID’s business plans over the course of their life.