Learn from 3 cities that aren't losing business to the Internet


By Jesse Berst, Chairman, Smart Cities Council

There’s no doubt that the arrival of the internet has made business difficult for traditional retailers. But a MasterCard study found something surprising when it looked at three retail districts in Britain: Business is as a good as it’s ever been.

Looking deeper, the businesses did not achieve that success by themselves. In each case, the city played a key role, using data and advanced analytics to help craft a vibrant downtown core where people want to shop. One used data to make parking easy. Another used data to strategically plan special events and redevelopment projects to help surrounding businesses. And the third embraced mobile payments.

Nottingham: Two reasons to embrace smart parking
Many cities use metered parking to encourage turnover with parking spaces, but smart meters do that and give the city valuable data to plan more comprehensive solutions.

Before Nottingham launched its ParkSmart initiative, drivers would have to circle an inner ring waiting for a space to open. Poor signage just added to the frustration.

Now the inner ring is divided into several parking zones. Technology from Siemens keeps track of available spaces and signage directs drivers accordingly. Better yet, the city is able to monitor spaces in real-time and use analytics to uncover trends to make parking easier in the future.

Norwich: Building business with digital payments
Norwich brought its downtown core together by embracing digital payments. Shoppers can buy things at stores by using a smartphone app that pays for the merchandise digitally.

It’s convenient, but the app also helps keep shoppers coming back. The app also lets stores build an ongoing relationship with the customers, serving as a platform for loyalty programs. It levels the playing field with online merchants who were already able to do that by the nature of their business.

Plymouth: Maximizing the impact of development
Cities can use MasterCard’s spending data to analyze the impact of their redevelopment efforts, giving them powerful insight into what works so they can direct more of their efforts into those channels.

In the case of Plymouth, MasterCard found that a new arena project boosted business in the neighborhood by 60% over a four-year period.

But you can also get sizable gains even without a big stadium project. The data also showed that coordinated shopping events can also bring people downtown. Around Christmas, businesses place nutcrackers in their windows. Shoppers can scan the nutcrackers with their smartphones to earn discounts.

That also provides the business and city with valuable data that can be used to learn more about shoppers. The city has even organized hackathons bringing data experts together to analyze the information to see if they can uncover other insights that would make the downtown business district even more attractive — and hopefully boost the economy even more.


Jesse Berst is the chairman of the Smart Cities Council, which helps cities use technology to become more livable, workable and sustainable. Learn about the Council’s second-annual Smart Cities Week, September 27-29 in Washington, D.C., at

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