A very indie Christmas: “If small retailers aren’t up on last year they’ve missed a trick”

With Christmas 2021 set to be one of the biggest on record post-pandemic Retail Gazette looks at how smaller, indie retailers can hope to see a successful festive trading period while competing with the likes of Amazon and other retail giants.

How can smaller and independent retailers have a successful Christmas trading season post-pandemic as they compete with giants?
"If small retailers aren’t significantly up on last year they’ve missed a trick" - George Rice.

For all retailers, big and small, the golden quarter has always been a crucial period of trading as businesses seek to capitalise on shoppers splashing the cash across Black Friday, Christmas and the sales that follow the festive season.

Footfall across the UK’s retail destinations has already begun to rise week-on-week as festive celebrations across the nation kick off.

With over 80 per cent of independent retailers across the UK set to shut down their websites and donate their profits to charity this Friday (Black Friday) in an attempt to protest against online giants, this Christmas will be a vital time for smaller businesses to see a significant boost in sales.

British Independent Retailers Association chief executive Andrew Goodacre said that “Christmas is going to be an incredibly important season for independent retailers” but also warned that despite positive indicators, we should remain concerned about rising costs and supply chain problems that are impeding independent retailers’ ability to meet consumer demand.

“This current trading period is the most important one for retail, and we need stronger sales in November and December to help retailers take on the many challenges that await them in 2022,” Goodacre said.

As they continue to recover post-pandemic, how can smaller retailers hope to capitalise on the festive period as international tourism levels remains low due to the pandemic?

“Smaller retailers can definitely make an impact”

Chief executive and founder of the snack brand Serious Pig George Rice told Retail Gazette that small businesses “must work harder to differentiate and stock lesser-known brands that have a strong point of difference.”

He added the importance of making sure all sales channels are “slick”, saying that “staff need to be well-trained, knowledgeable and able to upsell.

“Remember, they’re competing against the likes of Amazon whose customer experience is faultless” he explained.

Asendia UK’s sales director, Marie Barrance said: “Don’t forget as a smaller retailer you have a lot of control over the customer experience and you can really make this a point of difference,”

“For example, when your products arrive, including a handwritten note, or using beautiful wrapping can really make your shopper feel special.

“Reminding customers you’re a small business and thanking them for their trade can be a great way to secure a longer-term relationship (and encourage positive social media reviews!),” Barrance continued.

“Shoppers are looking for more sustainable options worldwide and this is a great space for smaller retailers to play in.”

As smaller and independent retailers look to have a successful Christmas while competing against larger chains, Seema Shah, senior director of research and analytics at the digital intelligence platform Similarweb said it is “certainly possible” due to the nature of unique, one-of-a-kind gifts

However, she said that in order to get a share of wallet, these retailers need to be out there with their deals (starting in October) to ensure that they sell-through their inventory and catch customers before they shop elsewhere.

“What they can do to entice customers is to provide a good experience ranging from customer service to in-line pricing, and maybe even things like food/drinks that draw people into the stores,” added Shah.

The ongoing supply chain crisis combined with Brexit red tape has hit businesses across the UK, causing severe delays and shortages throughout the sector.

Marie Barrance said that for retailers to avoid major delays this festive season they need to make sure they are aware of all the Christmas cut-off dates for their logistics partners.

“Know exactly how long it takes your side to get an order out the door from a customer pressing buy; for picking, packing and so on,” Barrance explained.

“Then build in an error margin to cope with the unexpected.

“Communicate the final date shipping date clearly to your customers and ideally have people with a clearly defined role to act as trouble-shooters and handle customer queries, particularly on social media.”

“It’s always going to be a challenge for independent retailers to compete with the giants”

Andrew Staal, co-founder of the advent calendar retailer SevenYays, said he and his team have remained “as transparent as possible” with customers about their delivery methods and periods and are always happy to chat about individual orders.

“We feel that the personal touch always helps elevate our brand above global competitors, who do not offer such a one-on-one service,” he added.

With experiential retail becoming ever-popular with modern shoppers, some retailers could be considering investing into physical pop-ups over the holidays.

Seema Shah said: “It’s hard to make a brand stand out among so many digital competitors without significant market expense.

“During peak selling periods, such as holidays, a pop-up store could be worthwhile as it provides the brand with broader exposure and a chance to control its image.

“Pop-up stores are most beneficial in areas of high foot traffic, which typically makes those locations expensive. They are a good option for retailers who want a short-term lease and can manage the cost for a set duration without a long-term commitment.”

As the world continues to press forward following the Covid-19 pandemic, should indie retailers fare better this time round, considering they’ve had time to learn from last year?

“Absolutely,” said George Rice. “If small retailers aren’t significantly up on last year they’ve missed a trick.”

“Covid provided a unique opportunity for smaller brands and retailers to take advantage of a willingness, and sometimes a necessity, from the consumer to buy alternative brands.

“Those new-to-brand consumers should have been nurtured and cemented as loyal customers by now and if that’s been done correctly, they’ll be spending more this Christmas as well as recommending those brands to their networks,” Rice continued.

Ian Finch, founder of the toy and leisure retailer Click Europe Ltd thinks that this year will be easier in many ways for smaller businesses.

“There was chaos in the air last year, as we all struggled to put untried systems in place,” he told Retail Gazette.

“Also, we were always playing catch-up with the latest government announcement and a raft of lockdown measures.

“We’ve had a year to sort ourselves out in that sense. We’ve all learned a lot. ”

He added that in some ways, including flexible and remote working, many businesses have changed forever as a result.

“What makes this year unpredictable is the supply chain issue. Some companies will be licking their wounds in January, others will be patting themselves on the back.

“It’s too early to say who the winners and losers will be. ”

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  1. “With over 80 per cent of independent retailers across the UK set to shut down their websites and donate their profits to charity this Friday (Black Friday) in an attempt to protest against online giants, this Christmas will be a vital time for smaller businesses to see a significant boost in sales.”

    I avoid Amazon and buy from small businesses. But are these businesses serious? They are willing to hurt their own business for….what exactly? Do they seriously think this action will somehow benefit something somewhere? Businesses are free to give some money to some large charities and pay off some CEO’s wages. But simply rejecting Black Friday and online business in the long run won’t help or prove anything.


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