The recent retail sales from the Office for National Statistics showed that small-scale shops are leading growth on the high street, with small retailers seeing an 8.1% rise in sales in December compared with a 2.6% rise at large high-street businesses. Although the figures appear to be great news for SMEs, the stats have been met with scepticism by the retail industry. Many experts argue that our local high streets are still experiencing troubled times. Countless local high street shops closed their doors in 2013 and experts are questioning whether independent retailers really can claw back success for the high street.
However, there are plenty of reasons why they could. With tailored customer service, local knowledge and specialist goods, small and independent retailers have USPs which are worth their weight in gold. Big brands cannot replicate this experience across many stores and as a result many shoppers trust customer service to be more personal on their local high street. Small retailers often offer tips on how to pair items, share knowledge of current trends and even hold late opening promotional events to go the extra mile for customers. By offering a shopping experience which is incomparable to big brands, small retailers can ensure that they stand out from competitors - and even drive the high street to recovery.
However, this turnaround won't happen to the high street overnight. Even though the ONS figures show a positive change, it doesn't mean that we can stop campaigning for our high streets. Many retailers are likely to face challenges in the coming months and need help to sustain success after the festive period. As a result, it's crucial that small retailers move with the times and adapt to consumer shopping habits to encourage shoppers to purchase from them again and again. The ONS figures suggest that the small retailers seeing the fastest growth by far are those based online - sales rose by more than a quarter year-on-year in December.
Online retail is still growing rapidly as consumers turn to the web as well as their mobiles and tablets to shop. It's estimated that UK online sales will rise by 17% in 2014 and break the £100bn mark according to the IMRG. Although we are clearly witnessing the rise of the iStreet, the small retailers highlighted to be selling online by the ONS are the minority. Many independent stores are only just beginning to take tentative steps into e-commerce. At the moment globally only 19 per cent of small businesses have an e-commerce store and of those just 21 per cent have a mobile website.
We're working on the target200 initiative with MyHigh.St and the British Independent Retailers Association to change that. We're building 200 digital showcases of Britain's best High Streets. Selling online means that shop keepers are no longer held back by store space or location and offers access to a whole new customer base outside of the local high street. By providing a digital retail outlet to thousands of retailers, shopkeepers will have the tools to sell successfully online in addition to their physical shop.
The ONS figures highlight the success of small retailers who have branched out online. Today's shoppers are seeking a unique experience and by combining their local high street with popular shopping channels like mobile, we can continue to build support for independent retailers. That way they can not only lead the high street recovery, but succeed so that their retail sales are completely unquestionable.