It’s finally happening.
More and more non-essential shops are opening for business, from local High Streets to retail parks to city centres, doors are opening and people are remembering what it feels like to spend money in a retail environment.
As big chains welcomed back shoppers, we were treated to images of thousands of people queuing to experience one of life’s pleasures: the physical process of being out and about, choosing things and treating yourself. Of course the experience isn’t what it was before the pandemic, and for good reason. Limited numbers inside stores, one-way systems and no access to changing rooms, but it’s as close as we’re going to get for a while.
As a company committed to furthering local business of all types, it’s heartening to see the first signs.
From hairdressers to local car dealerships, from department stores inside big shopping centres to small artisans with a niche clientele, we believe that the connection people have with their local business community is incredibly powerful and important.
Now certainly, but perhaps more so for the future.
The COVID-19 lockdown has seen more people than ever embrace online shopping. According to a survey by Visa, a third of Britons ordered online for the first time during the lockdown.
The most recent monthly figures from Kantar show that nearly one in five British households ordered groceries online, 1.6 million more than this time last year. KPMG now estimates that online retailing could reach 50% by 2025, five years earlier than previously predicted.
This is a pattern that was clearly emerging before the lockdown, so it’s no surprise. But it does flag up that local business will need to work hard to bring back the customers it had before the world turned upside down. People were already falling out of the habit of visiting local shops or traders: in a few months’ time, when the buzz of a shopping trip is outweighed by the inconvenience of things like queuing to even get into a shop, shop wardens ensuring social distancing and the necessary ‘buy before you try’ mentality, will they still be as enthusiastic about the return to the High Street?
Our hope is that they can. The pandemic has also highlighted to people what makes local business so vital and special. It offers a much more personal, connected and community-focused experience.
During the pandemic, many people have turned to their local stores and suppliers rather than to the big names for their essentials, something that’s been amplified by the increase in the number of people working from home in smaller towns and villages.
Local farm shops, butchers, milk delivery and essential services have supported people in their time of need. Now customers can see an opportunity to keep supporting their local business, not just returning the favour, but reaping a mutual benefit. It’s a return to a traditional mindset that has a connection to the place you live, and the other people who live there.
This is an opportunity to show consumers what a local connection means - to project forward and imagine what a thriving High Street in their area could mean. Retail champion Mary Portas sits firmly in this camp, believing that although physical retail will decline, we’ll get better physical retail. In a recent interview with the BBC she spoke about how the lockdown has seen people focus more on community and connection; doubling down on recycling and not travelling very far.
“It’s given us space to really think about our world. I honestly think this is the window of opportunity for local High Streets. The mood is ‘I don’t want to travel far, my community’s important, I want to connect locally and I want to support those businesses that also were there when we needed them.’”
The Government recently announced a £50 million Reopening High Streets Safely fund that’s been created to help councils take the measures they need to open High Streets and other retail spaces and to kickstart local economies. The fund is available not just for practical measures, but also for signage and local marketing campaigns.
So with public sentiment leaning towards local business, and a fund in existence that could help High Streets to capitalise on this mood, the time is right to focus on growing this community-focused, personally-connected way of doing business. Not just so that retail and commerce can overcome the post-outbreak months, but flourish during the post-outbreak years ahead.
We see We Are Acuity as very much a catalyst in this opportunity, with a Purpose and Vision which both connect to local business in all of its forms:
To grow local business and help to return commerce back to local communities
Save local business
We worked on these statements at the beginning of the year, well before the extent of the COVID-19 threat was apparent. It seemed important then, it seems vital now.
It’s clear that local business can not only survive the current shakeup, but it could come out of it stronger than before. We think that’s something worth fighting for, and we’ll be doing all we can to promote, energise and sustain local business in all of its forms over the coming months and years.
We invite you to join us.