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Comment: Championing our indie shops

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As we’ve seen in recent years, the financial crisis and popularity of online shopping has taken a toll on our high-street shops. This was shown in a recent report by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) which found that consumer spending in high-street shops is falling – it was 50 per cent in 2000 and is predicted to drop to 40.2 per cent by next year. It is predicted that 153 towns and cities across the UK could lose 27,000 shops over the next five years, which could result in up to 316,000 job losses due to what the CRR describes as a ‘growing retail crisis’.

Britain’s high-streets used to be the buzzing centre of our communities, but they are now blighted by a depressing line-up of pound shops, payday lenders and pawnbrokers. Approximately 14 per cent of UK high-streets are vacant, with major retailers such as HMV and Blockbuster in administration. In recent weeks, we’ve seen even more causalities with the likes of furniture brand, Dwell, and toy and model retailer, Modelzone, following suit. Meanwhile, online retail continues to grow and is predicted to account for 21.5 per cent of all retail sales by 2018, according to CRR. In fact, latest figures from the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index show that the online retail market grew by 20 per cent year-on-year in June – the highest recorded growth in two years. This is in stark contrast to the continued decline in store footfall reported by the BRC over the first half of the year and amplifies the increase of online at the expense of store sales.

Local support is growing

However, all is not lost. Public support for small businesses and independent retailers is growing. According to research by Udozi, 33 per cent of shoppers would like to see more independent stores on local high-streets. The study found that 15 per cent of shoppers are motivated to buy from independent retailers by their desire to support small local businesses. It is estimated that for every pound spent with a independent business at least 50p circulates back into the local economy.

Indeed, the state of the economy has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds since 2008, and many shoppers have become increasingly conscious on how they can help with the recovery, particularly on the high-street. Whilst it might cost slightly more, an increasing number of people are choosing to buy everyday items from independent retailers in an effort to support the local economy. By spending more in these shops, Brits feel as though they are helping their own towns and villages. This is supported by evidence which suggests that small businesses and independent shops have a vital role to play in our economic recovery. In fact, research reveals 75 per cent of businesses in the UK are sole traders and contribute nearly half of the UK’s turnover. What’s more, 88 per cent of unemployed people that find work in the private sector either start up or work for an SME.

Proud to be British

Britain is rightly proud of its reputation as a nation of shopkeepers. Brits value local shops for not only the products they sale, but for their role as vital hubs which bring communities together. This growing recognition of the value and importance these businesses play has helped boost sales on the high-street. A recent report by the Entertainment Retailers Association reveals that independent record shops recorded a 44 per cent increase in album sales during the first half of 2013, compared to the same period last year. Despite facing heavy competition from digital sales and major retail brands, evidence suggests that people are choosing to spend more and support local shops. By encouraging support for independent retailers we’re starting to tackle the very real issue of declining footfall on Britain’s high-streets.

Local retailers are a big part of what makes our town centres special. They offer a variety of products, a familiar and more personal shopping experience and often have more character than the major retail brands. However, independent shops need to learn a thing or two from their larger counterparts when it comes to technology. This is supported by a report by Udozi, which found over 10 per cent of British shoppers claim that a lack of presence on mobile and online platforms is putting them off shopping in local stores. Therefore, these smaller businesses need to evolve and learn to embrace multi-channel retail if they want to survive in today’s modern marketplace. As the large retailers have discovered, an online or multi-channel profile can open you up to a much wider audience that might have otherwise not been aware of your existence. E-retail offers independent shops the opportunity to bring a sense of community online by encouraging people to support their home-grown retailers – something which major high-street chains are unable to do.

Indie shops can go online too

Of course, building a successful multi-channel platform is not cheap, so many independents have found e-retail beyond their grasp. However, a scheme launched last year aims to offer independent shops the opportunity to take their businesses online. Myhigh.St allows customers to browse and purchase goods from their local retailers on their mobile, PC or tablet, and includes the option to click and collect or have purchases delivered to their doors (in much the same way as hungryhouse.co.uk allows customers to order on-line from local takeaways). Since being introduced last summer with 100 independents, the Myhigh.St now has 125 retailers on board, with 70 more about to be added. Once 10 or more shops in an area sign-up to the free service, a virtual high-street is created.

Myhigh.St marries the convenience of online shopping with the personal touch and knowledge only found with local retailers. The site enables local retailers to work together to reduce costs and allow customers to buy locally any time of the day. It is a brilliant response to the demand for online shopping and enables local stores to compete with the leading supermarkets, shopping malls and established e-retail sites.

It’s crucial that we bring experts, shopkeepers and shoppers together to come up with more ways to help get independent businesses online. High-streets are essential to future of Britain, but to survive in the digital age they require more support from their local community. The future lies in traders fostering a sense of community, and using the internet, not fighting against it.

Published on Thursday 29 August by Editorial Assistant

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