Small independent retailers – the future of the High Street?

10th February 2014

According to recent research by Groupon and retail consultancy, Kantar, small independent retailers (known in the US as ‘Mom and Pop’ shops) are becoming popular once again and are the preferred choice over bland chain stores and retail giants as shoppers seek out a more tailored and individual customer experience.

Can independent stores really save the high street?

Independents on the High Street

The survey of 2,000 people reveals that whilst 42% of shoppers prefer the convenience of shopping online, almost two thirds of them prefer to go in-store. 71 % said that they would make more trips to shop on their local high street if it contained more independent stores.  Artisan food and drinks, clothes, book stores, bakeries and restaurants were the most popular shops described amongst respondents, with bookmakers, estate agents and mobile phone stores proving the least welcome on the high street with many shoppers saying that they hoped that they would all move online instead within the next five to ten years.

Online to Physical Retail

As previously blogged about here – some previously online-only retailers are now moving into physical retail – and the research indicates that this move would be a welcomed by shoppers as almost half of the respondents concur that they would like online retailers to provide physical shops on the high street where they can see, feel or try products before they buy – and experience social and human interaction – with 46% of consumers saying they enjoy the personal touch where high street businesses know who they are and what they like (although not all want this – see last week’s post about the popularity of the Hointer store in Seattle!)

The vice president of national sales at Groupon, Richard Jones,  agrees that consumers would like a mix of physical and online retail:

“Despite the rise in online shopping and self-service technology that businesses should support, it seems that the back to basics approach of having physical stores and specialist staff on hand is critical as consumers want to emotionally connect with the brand, talk to experts and see and touch products.”

Competing with Retail Giants

Yet the trouble with small retailers is they cannot offer the discount prices of larger retailers and they must find a way to remain competitively priced in order to compete with online companies who have lower overheads, as Jones suggests:

“Independent businesses must consider how to make what their offer stand out both on and offline to deliver better value, quality and customer service. By acting on what customers want, they can boost both footfall and local commerce – we are helping small businesses do just this, so that they thrive on the High Street.”

Unexpected Item in Bagging Area

In addition to the personal touch, the futurists at Kantar also suggest that other new tech such as ‘virtual shopping’ where consumers will be able to check out hologram projections of products on themselves or in their homes could be the future of retail as a third of the shoppers surveyed said this would be their ‘ideal retail experience’  However, not all retail technology has been well received – self service tills are still dividing the nation – with 1 in 5 shoppers recently admitting to knowingly shoplifting whilst using one and Waitrose in Milton Keynes this week deciding to remove all of their self-service checkouts as they were actually slower than manned tills with possibly more to follow – to the delight of some and disgruntlement of others.

So where do you stand on the self service debate? – Do you like a small independent store with a friendly face or do you like to get in and get out without speaking to anyone – like the shoppers at Hointer? Maybe it depends on your mood? Perhaps retailers need to accept that different customers like different things and create more retail interaction choices – be that physical or online or technologically enabled, in order to stay ahead.


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