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Retail gets its independence back

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This month, retail industry professionals and consumers alike are celebrating ‘Independent Retailer’s Month’ which, now in its second year, aims to raise awareness of the local family run shop in town centres across the country.

Its timing is only slightly ahead of the anniversary of the riots which spread across parts of the UK in August last year. Following looting, criminal damage and hysteria, the plight of small businesses came to the fore as many suffered at the hands of violence.

Set up by the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA) Michael Weedon, Deputy CEO and Communications Director, believes it is necessary to raise recognition of how the money it invests back into the community is much vaster than in chains on the high street.

He told Retail Gazette: “The wealth they generate stays in their localities far more than any national multiple.

“It has been stated that for every pound spent in a multiple only 5p stays in the locality, whereas with an independent the figure is more like 70p.”

It is often difficult for smaller, less commercial shops in less populated towns of the UK to compete with household name stores as these retailers typically have less stock and rely on more traditional methods of transaction and service.

A preferred method by larger retailers is a Point of Sale (POS) system to run and promote business through channels such as SMS marketing and planning, though this is expensive technology and as such not a valid option for independents.

Computer driven technology can cost up to thousands of pounds, meaning a great number of local community shops prefer to drive down overheads by using the traditional cash register and calculator.

Casio has come up with a way to try and solve the problem for independents by creating Casio’s new VX-100 Android platform EPoS and its Cloud based Casio Business Portal.

A package which can be downloaded and trialled before any commitment to buy, Casio claims that the technology is available at a fraction of the price of other solutions, lifting the financial burden on SME’s.

Guy Boxall, Senior Product Marketing Manager at Caso, explained the concept to Retail Gazette, commenting: “For the smaller family owned stores, Casio are going on board with the android platform which connects with this new v100.

“It is a very intelligent bit of kit which connects to the new Casio portal which launches this month, and it gives the small independent retailers the chance to go online and download free trial packages made by third parties before trying them out free of charge to see if it fits their model.

Casio takes the biggest solution that has been used by larger stores, then packages it and makes it available to the small independent retailers, selling it at a much lower cost.”

With 25 years of experience in retail EPOS systems and already proving its success rate in a case study carried out in the East End of London, Casio says it has already generated popularity across the capital as SME’s rush to entice tech-savvy young consumers in their local areas.

Boxall believes this is a good way for independents to regain a presence on the high street using the strapline ‘the high street fighting back’, adding that the company plans to roll out the technology in Brixton before its official launch later this month.

Liz Pilgrim, Managing Director of Ealing-based luxury baby gift boutique Baby e, is a strong advocate of POS systems and by her own admission believes it saved her business during the London riots last year.

She recalls the pandemonium left by vandalism to her shop in August 2011 and told Retail Gazette: “Most of the rioters could not get through the stair gate blocking entrance to our stock room.

“This allowed business to continue as we have the infrastructure (POS system) down here but imagine if all the computers were stolen.

Due to the system we were able to open relatively quickly and all our suppliers were really helpful, even offering free stock.”

Pilgrim would recommend other small retailers to install a reliable POS system as it can be a boost to a flagging business and gives it a competitive edge, adding: “I think independents really need to stay ahead of the times.”

Raising a shop’s profile through these channels can help to ease suffering from a double whammy of poor weather and a struggling economy, as Pilgrim claimed that these variables have actually more adversely affected the shop than the aftermath of the riots.

“We are worse off than we were for two main reasons: the economy and the weather.

“The weather has such a huge affect on the sales except for anything that is waterproof and the whole country has gone through a massive hit on sales that could never have been foreseen.

“The market is not great for any retailer out there.”

While Pilgrim is relying on tech savvy shoppers to boost sales, there are many who prefer a one-to-one personalised experience traditionally found within independent stores.

Clare Rayner, supporter of Independent Retailer’s Month and Retail Champion, believes mature consumers are being alienated by omnichannel high street retailers, driving them back into the community corner shop, meaning that not all hope is lost.

“There are over 169,000 independent retail businesses in the UK, equating to 92% of all retail businesses and on average 60% of all town centre shops are occupied by independent businesses,” Rayner told Retail Gazette.

“It isn’t a surprise that a more mature shopper favour independent retailers; mature shoppers enjoy taking the time to get to know who they are buying from and value great service from a company that is an integral part of their community.

“With an ageing population and a trend toward shopping local, it seems that independent retailers have much to look forward to.

“Those who are able to offer great service, a community spirit, and who are accessible to those who favour town centres over out of town developments, will benefit from the more mature shopper choosing to spend with them.”

Published on Tuesday 17 July by Editorial Assistant

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