COVID-19, with it’s various lockdowns, trends and lifestyle changes has impacted the economy in a way that was previously unprecedented. Back in early 2019, no one could imagine that an event like this could happen. It affected everyone, worldwide, in such a fundamental way that it has shifted our buying and spending habits for the rest of time.
When we first went into lockdown in the UK, we shifted our spending and a few industries experienced a boom, such as:
- Tech and Home Entertainment (Think Netflix, Youtube, Smart Home Gadgets)
- DIY and Home Improvement
- Grocery Home Delivery
- Ecommerce Delivery
- Gardening Goods
You get the idea. Things we can do without leaving the house. Things we can do to entertain ourselves when we’re stuck in.
But back during the first lockdown, we were all still pretty prosperous. We could afford to buy those extra comforts to make our homes fun.
Now, in 2022, we’re not in lockdown, but with economic pressures such as:
- Supply Chain Issues
- Material and Supply Shortages
- Worker Shortages
- Logistics Disruptions
- Brexit Legal Changes
- Rising Energy Bills
We’re all sort of, feeling the pinch.
And retailers, specifically, shop owners are on the front line when it comes to customers decreasing and re-prioritising their spend.
Why Aren’t People Visiting Shops?
In 2020 and 2021, retailers who could afford to invest in digital, did so.
Big supermarkets and some of the staple brands of the British high street totally shifted their strategy, they directed their budget towards better websites, more home delivery infrastructure and digital marketing. Subsequently, it’s now easier than ever for a consumer to get what they want delivered to their door, and sometimes in as little as 24 hours.
So let’s consider your average Joe. He wants to buy a new jumper, so he has two options. Buy one online, or head to his local town/city centre to get one.
But there are a few things playing on Joe’s mind. He’s got some concerns about heading into town. Namely:
- The cost of petrol and parking now often outweighs the cost of home delivery.
- If public transport is running, it might not be at the right time, it might be cold, and he’ll likely have to sit in close proximity to people, meaning…
- He’s increasing his risk of catching COVID-19, even if he’s fully vaccinated.
- Supply shortages mean he might make all that effort, but the shops won’t have what he needs in stock. This means a wasted journey.
But online, Joe has the following advantages:
- If he orders from certain stores, he might get free delivery, or next-day delivery, or both.
- He has the choice of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of retailers.
- Due to this choice, he can get a competitive price, AND likely get a jumper in the exact style he likes.
- He can read reviews of the jumper, so he knows he’s buying quality.
- Even if he’s not sure about sizing, some online retailers offer “buy now, pay later” services. Joe can order multiple sizes and simply return the ones that don’t fit.
- He can do all of this on his mobile, while sitting on the couch with a cuppa, snug as a bug.
Even if we want to believe that we are passionate about supporting small retailers, even if we don’t want to see our local high streets with empty shops. It fundamentally comes down to two undeniable human characteristics: we are lazy and we want more value for our money.
We’re creatures of convenience.
So How Can a Shop Survive 2022?
We believe there are two important factors here. So let’s look at each individually.
Consumers Are Craving Experiences
Over the past two years, people have been cooped up inside. They haven’t seen their loved ones as much as they’d like to. Their favourite days out have been either sold with ‘limited tickets’ or subject to restrictions that have lessened the overall experience.
We’re working from home, we’re sick of staring at the TV, and we want a little bit of brain stimulation.
Just think about how many people got ‘creative’ with their daily walks when we were in the most extreme lockdown conditions. Humans will push the boundaries of rules if it means they’re not bored.
So you can’t compete with online stores on price, choice and convenience. But here’s what you can do, you can give people a reason not to sit on their couch tapping their phone screens.
Here’s a few things we believe shops should be offering in 2022 to boost their foot traffic:
- Workshops, courses and talks. What does your customer want to learn?
- Meetups and socials. Nurture your community.
- Product demonstrations. If you’re a plant store show customers how to care for their plants. If you’re a tech store, offer a free 30-minute ‘set-up session’.
- Truly unique products. Go viral. If you’re an ice cream parlour, make the most magical, instagrammable dessert that your customers can’t bear to miss out on. If you’re a crafter, jump on a trend and make the cutest Squid Game valentine’s cards. You get the idea.
- Create a reason to stay. Increase a visitors time in store so that they have longer to be tempted into buying that item they want. You could serve coffee, offer a reading space, a social space, somewhere people can try out your products, or a clothing boutique could even offer a social media ‘photo booth’.
The aim of the game is to get people in and keep them there. Stop thinking the old fashioned cliché of ‘timewasters’ taking up space in your store – even someone who doesn’t make a purchase might bring in someone who does through the power or social media and word of mouth.
Shops (And Landlords) Need to Rethink Their Model
Rent is expensive and so are business rates. The big brands are leaving, but the small start-ups are booming.
Sadly there’s a disconnect. The start-ups really want that retail space, but they can’t afford it. And even if they can, they can’t buy in to long-term contracts with no exit clauses.
It’s time to start doing what your mother taught you to do all along – share.
Split those massive retail units up into smaller, flexible spaces for micro-businesses. If you’re a renter, consider asking your landlord if you can sub-let part of your shop to a complimentary business.
If they say no, why not invite small businesses to ‘rent a shelf’ in your shop so they can showcase their products without the risk of a lease.
This offers a multitude of benefits. For a start, you now have multiple people contributing to your marketing efforts. Their customers will become your customers. Their fans will become yours.
You also have the benefit of becoming a destination. With a few small businesses combined in one area, shoppers can come out for a browse and a ‘day out’. They’ll also be enticed by the pact you’re offering products and services that are unique and not necessarily available online.
Let’s revisit Joe. Online he can buy his standard jumper from plenty of fashion brands with free express delivery, but what if Joe likes to be different? What if he likes quirky, unique fashion? What if he’s eco-conscious and hates contributing to fast-fashion waste?
If Joe’s local department store closed down, and the retail space was now filled with lots of handmade fashion brands, a jewellery seller, a cool coffee shop and a micro brewery. Well that’s a day out.
And those small brands might be on Etsy, but online they’ll have seller fees and will likely post through Royal Mail, so their postage is steep. They’re a one-person operation without the man power for fast delivery, so if Joe wants his unique jumper, it’s cheaper for him to visit the shop.
Sellers only need to look at the way local councils across the country are revamping their market halls. With indie food courts and late-opening bars, people are enticed to these experience-rich destinations where they can meet their friends.
So retail isn’t dying, but it is changing.
What do you think of the tips in this article? Are you a shop owner? We’d love to hear your thoughts.