Last month eBay opened a unique store concept in Wolverhampton. The pop-up store is open for a month and is the first of its kind in the UK, offering local small businesses the opportunity to showcase and sell their products.
The retail experiment is located in Wolverhampton’s i10 building and is part of a wider, year-long programme between the City of Wolverhampton Council and the online auction site.
Retail Revival Scheme
The Retail Revival partnership began in September last year, following research by Development Economics, revealing that a quarter of UK small businesses do not have an online presence aimed at generating sales – e.g. a website, social media or a presence within an online marketplace such as eBay.
Participants in the Retail Revival scheme received 1-to-1 support to create personalised eBay shops, as part of a comprehensive training programme covering the basics of eBay selling, and other digital skills including Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and digital marketing.
After the first six months, eBay revealed that they had helped the retailers deliver more than £2 million in sales. The 64 stores participating in the scheme reported an average growth rate of 36% in year on year revenue, with almost half planning to expand their business or hire additional staff.
The benefits of the programme aren’t just limited to financial gain. Mike Dixon, co-founder of pet supplies store, Hugglepets, described the other advantages of participating in the scheme:
“Retail Revival has helped us to significantly grow our business so that we’re able to do more of the things we want to do. It’s freed up our time and given us greater financial stability – our revenue was up 22% year on year last month – so that we’re able to give back to the local community.
“We’ve recently launched a project called ‘Tea with a Twist’, where we invite people from the local retirement home to come in for a cuppa, meet the animals, and have a chat. We’re also crowdfunding to build a sensory classroom and aquarium for children with learning difficulties, so that we can teach them about aquatics and plastic pollution in the ocean and help improve their mental wellbeing. None of this would have been possible without eBay – they’ve helped to bring together the local community in more ways than one.”
Rob Hattrell, Vice President of eBay in the UK, added:
“The past few years have been tough for UK retail, but it’s too simplistic to say that online shopping comes at the detriment of the high street. Our partnership with entrepreneurs in Wolverhampton shows what a combination of online and physical retail can achieve.
“It’s exciting to see how far these businesses have come in just 6 months, with online sales leading to new jobs in some cases – and we’re only halfway. The businesses on the programme should be extremely proud of themselves and we are excited to be helping them protect and grow their businesses.”
And the City of Wolverhampton’s Director of Regeneration, Richard Lawrence, agreed:
“The impact the Retail Revival scheme is making on small retailers in our city after just 6 months is truly remarkable. We very much value the presence of these small businesses and the creative local people behind them.
“It is tremendous news that almost half of the participants on this programme have either expanded or are planning to. I am delighted we were able to attract a global brand like eBay to the city – it has helped these businesses with their digital marketing and sales skills, giving them a solid platform for sustainable growth.”
Additional research conducted by Populus on behalf of eBay for its Small Business Barometer appears to echo the positive effects of the scheme, reporting that 64% of small business owners in the West Midlands felt optimistic about the year ahead – this far exceeds the national average of 43%.
Bricks and Mortar Retail Experiment
The new pop-up store continues to explore the benefits of multi-channel retailing, with around 40 local businesses on board, offering interactive experiences including workshops and tutorials as well as showcasing products and services.
From what we have read so far it looks as though this partnership with eBay has been a resounding success and it taps into current thinking that most shoppers want the convenience of online shopping and information, coupled with unique physical experiences and customer service in store. Retailers really need to embrace both in order to stay competitive. It is apparent that more schemes like this could really boost the high street and keep businesses buoyant and we hope that other councils take heed – and if not, perhaps retailers can follow by example and use their own initiative to develop their online offer.