Amongst the doom and gloom headlines about the future of our high streets and markets, there is more than a chink of light.
The focus on the rapid toppling of retail giants has refocused our attention on the importance of places to our communities, and how important small businesses are to places.
Whilst the giants are struggling to compete and gain footfall and custom, small businesses have a huge opportunity to attract new customers.
Offering the personal service, experience, niche products, quality and provenance of products that retail experts have long been saying is increasingly important to improving competitiveness.
These are good signs, and big businesses have a lot to learn from small businesses. However one big issue is hurting our high streets and indeed our communities more than anything else and it is the home delivery mindset.
Home delivery is impacting bricks and mortar by reducing footfall into towns, and detaching the concepts of town being a place to eat and drink, and the internet as a place to shop. The internet is an attractive place to shop because unlike local businesses the opening hours fit into busy lifestyles.
Often in debates and discussions in the media – ‘the internet’ or online is labelled the problem. But it is the opportunity especially for small independents if they work together. Customers in our research have shown a strong desire to shop local but a frustration that it is not that convenient.
Shops are closed when people return from work, and there is no way for customers to research products online (half of us do that before we touch a physical store). So we need to start to change behaviours both for customers and retailers that are acting as a destructive force to our cities, towns and markets.
Lagging behind in technology means businesses fail to meet customer needs, and customers who always assume that what they need is on Amazon on not nearby, is detrimental to our high streets, our communities and our planet.
ShopAppy started as a local alternative and a force to change behaviours back in 2016. Founded by Dr Jackie Mulligan, a former academic passionate about local businesses, the site offers customers a way to browse products and services available in their local area and click and collect items after hours.
The solution means that independent small businesses and franchises, can showcase themselves in online shop window for their area which enables customers to order then click and collect their items after the shop have closed, often from a pub or cafe.
In early November, the site added new booking and ring to order features to embrace the wider range of service-led businesses on high streets too.
Now two years old and with an impressive GB Entrepreneur Award under its belt, ShopAppy has grown to 21 towns in the North and East of England. In 2019, the team will be working in more areas across the country.