Although the UK's economy is showing signs of recovery, growing by 1.1 per cent during the first six months of this year, 18 high street shops closed their doors every day during this period according to research from PwC. With many people shopping away from the high street, a new initiative is launching in December to encourage people to shop locally at independent stores.
Originally an American shopping holiday, Small Business Saturday generated $5.5 (£3.5) billion in sales for US small businesses in 2012. With 4.8 million small businesses in the UK, Chuka Umunna, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills is now bringing the scheme over here.
The day comes as the debate around the future of the high street rumbles on but also whilst confidence levels among small businesses are rising at their fastest pace in 25 years. It is hoped that this support for independent retailers will encourage communities to shop locally for Christmas, but if the day is to have a lasting effect it is vital that retailers take steps to ensure that the effects go beyond the festive period and create long lasting and loyal customer relationships.
Build long term success
Whilst Small Business Saturday will boost the high street, one day can't be considered a long term answer. The key to success after the initiative is about recognising changing shopping habits and responding to them.
It cannot be ignored that consumers are shopping online and using their mobile in store to find the best deal. In fact, the latest IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index highlighted that spend online in the run up to Christmas will top £10bn for the first time. There is clearly a need for the high street to work in tandem with online if small businesses are to compete with big players.
However, you don't need to know how to build a website to sell online. Marketplaces are used by many independent retailers as they provide the technical infrastructure needed so that logistics, such as payment systems and delivery, are taken care of.
It's understandable that many small businesses are afraid of losing their local brand identity by going online. E-commerce has long been associated with the best price, rather than the best customer experience and independent retailers often don't want to become part of this vending machine model.
Fortunately there are ways for retailers to extend their reach online without becoming 'faceless' by replicating the fantastic experience that customers receive in-store on the web. An easy way to do this is to share relevant, valuable content in an email newsletter. For example, you could share tasty recipes for customers to make with their new kitchen appliances or offer fashion tips on how to pair items. E-newsletters help to drive traffic to the online store, but can also encourage customers to visit your physical store. You could use an e-newsletter to invite shoppers to events in-store such as a Christmas shopping night or an evening talk with a local company whose product you sell.
The upper hand on big brands
It's obviously important to bring customers through the door on Small Business Saturday but to win customers over for the long term retailers must do more. One of the great ways local shops can triumph over big brands is by providing specialist knowledge and personalised customer service. You can understand individual customers' product preferences and then make tailored recommendations. You will then be able to offer special deals for the local community based on real relationships. Furthermore, by sharing local knowledge, for example on where your products are made, you offer a service which is very hard for a big brand to echo.
There is strength in numbers and you could work with other local stores to celebrate your whole high street community. You could offer a joint loyalty scheme or build an initiative to share knowledge about other local stores to help drive neighbours' sales. This approach has worked well in Brixton where local stores teamed up to launch the Brixton Pound (B£), a currency initiative that helps to keep spending within the local community. It was launched in 2009 and around 200 businesses are currently accepting the currency which drives loyalty amongst businesses in the area.
Make use of the support available
Independent retailers need to work harder than ever to be successful today. Fortunately, initiatives like Small Business Saturday and Target200, a campaign to help independent retailers get online, provide support to growing retailers. Initiatives like these provide small businesses with valuable insight into how they can support their offline offering by selling online. E-commerce offers huge potential for retailers to expand their reach and there's no reason why small businesses can't tap into this.