Supermarkets often get the blame for killing our high streets. But are they really to blame and if so are they the only reason? When I asked consumers what they thought was killing the high street and independent businesses, supermarkets weren’t top of the list.
1) People recognised high rents and rates as significant factors. Council rates can be so high that independent shops can’t afford to pay so independent businesses have to rely on Internet sales when they might well benefit from a presence on the high street as would shoppers.
2) Amazon. There’s big killer for you. Businesses have to adapt and as they say it’s dog eat dog. A company receiving a lot of bad press recently about how they treat staff. Appallingly. Ridiculous targets etc. All helps keep prices low. Well the small businesses would like Amazon to treat their staff better and put the prices of stock back up to where they should be. Nowadays you have to sell your stuff there or not sell much at all. The upshot of this, particularly for books is that Amazon buy your products at a hugely discounted price they then undercut you so you are stuck with either reducing your prices to match or losing sales to Amazon which can afford to take really small margins. Small businesses are really hit by that because they are in a lose lose situation. Don’t go on Amazon lose sales, go on Amazon don’t make so many sales trough their own outlets.
3) Internet shopping. Nuff said
4) Large supermarkets out of towns mean that people go to the supermarket and do a big shop getting more groceries, but aren’t supermarkets saying that actually it’s the smaller convenience stores that are being used more? If so perhaps they are helping our towns? Although of course at the cost of the smaller independent shops. I read a while back about people complaining about a new Tesco store opening up in their town. A local grocer was complaining that it would take away business. What I found interesting though was a response from someone to his comment on the site. The comment was aimed at the complainer. The man said that his mother had opened a local florist many years ago, had built it up, was very proud of it and then this grocer started to do flowers and put her out of business. He had no sympathy for this grocer. Just goes to show that any one business is able to take advantage and put people out of business it’s just here that because it is a big chain that it gets more coverage? Not that I am sticking up for supermarkets (er obviously given this!) but there’s more to it than just putting your local grocer out of business.
5) Parking. Lack of it or cost. Councils making people pay to stay even a short time on the high street. That puts people off. (Although see here for appealing tickets and don’t forget you have ten minutes grace now!)
6) Apathy. People don’t care about supporting local businesses if they can save time and money elsewhere.
7) Lack of creativity. The few independent bookshops that have managed to survive (and seriously well done to them) have done so by branching out and selling other things such as craft from independent sellers and proving tea and coffee whilst you browse.
8) Opening hours. People are so busy these days they needs shops opening before 9.00am and after 5.30pm Big shopping malls take this business when people do it all in one go after work or on a Sunday.
9) Cafes, yes we want some but not every other shop!
So what to do?
A lot comes down to people supporting local businesses. That includes buying direct from the business and not through Amazon, but realistically this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Consumers can look around though on other sites such as Facebook groups and find people selling on there. Supporting the self employed in this way can make all the difference to someone starting out.
Businesses on the local high street need to look at being creative and asking customers what they would like to see and be ready to change regularly.
Councils clearly need to reduce rents and rates if we are to see some innovation and unique shops back on our high streets. They need to limit the number of one type of shop on the high street to bring some variety.