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Small retailers need to look to their community

Diane Hall


Small business selling fruit

Every town’s retail space will have changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Our High Streets were already evolving before the virus took hold, and the last twelve months will only have speeded up this journey.

A number of household names have gone into administration during 2020/21—brands that we’ve grown up with, that we expect to see when out shopping, companies that should have been big enough and sturdy enough to weather this storm.

I suspect that their units will remain empty for a long while. The pandemic has influenced how we spend our money and purchase goods, and there aren’t that many larger companies around to fill these spaces that weren’t already situated on the High Street.

Then there are the smaller chains and independents. There’s bound to be fewer of these when restrictions lift…some retailers, understandably, couldn’t survive twelve months without any income and have subsequently folded their businesses in favour of a job.

Town centres will look very different indeed when things open back up.

For the businesses still standing, their local community will prove absolutely vital as they, and the economy, recover.

Larger companies and national brands will be able to cut costs and absorb their losses, and they will already have a plan to climb back to where they were. That’s not to say that small businesses won’t have some tools in their arsenal—one being their agility, i.e. their ability to adapt to challenges much quicker than larger brands.

Another is the direct relationship they have with their locality. A small business owner is accessible to the surrounding community, as opposed to the CEO of a larger chain that may not have ever visited the local branch in question.

This accessibility is great for forging loyalty and evoking engagement.

Small businesses able to trade during lockdown, via delivery, takeaway service, click and collect, etc., will have predominantly seen sales from their local community. At a time when all non-essential shops are shut, some people have craved seeing and touching products rather than relying on yet another online delivery. Local providers have therefore received sales from their neighbours, who have been unable to travel to the nearest city for a spot of retail therapy. Sales will also have come from people who make a point of seeking out their local providers, in a bid to support the community they live in.

Small businesses need to build on these connections and try their best to retain their local customers when the playing field becomes level again and everyone can trade. Here are three tips that will help strengthen this relationship.

Woman shopping at local store with mask on

Woman shopping at local store with mask on

Remind them you still exist

There’s a real risk that local businesses could fade into obscurity once the public’s favourite brands reopen their doors. Make sure your neighbours and your local community don’t forget you exist—plan a leaflet drop, offer a discount to inhabitants of local postcodes, donate to a local charity with some accompanying local PR, continue the delivery/click and collect options even when you’re open for people who can’t get to your shop during working hours.

Stress the convenience of shopping from retailers they can walk to.

Reward those who supported you

Have a look at your sales records…are there any local customers who spent more than the average? If so, give them a freebie as a reward for their loyalty. There’s a strong chance you’ll get some (free) advertising as a result, as the recipients gush about how unexpected the freebie was and how flattered they are that you thought of them.

Arrange a get-together

Once restrictions are lifted, larger stores will be going hell for leather for sales, but much of it will feel meaningless to the shopper, in comparison to the experience you will have no doubt provided–and can continue to provide. The novelty will wear off, and that’s the perfect opportunity to swan back into their lives.

Though things may change from this point, it’s likely that, in the summer, you could hold a small event outdoors to celebrate getting through one of the most challenging times we’ve all faced. Your larger competitors can’t pull off something like that without months of planning and reams of red tape. Inviting a handful of your best customers round for a BBQ, picnic or buffet won’t cost too much; however, it will go a long way to permanently cementing the relationship you have with them. Don’t forget how powerful word of mouth is, and what these valued customers will say about you to other people on your doorstep.

We have no idea what will happen when the High Street swings back into action, considering the hammering it’s taken. With the many choices customers have when it comes to spending their money, you will need to work at keeping your share. These tips will make it easier.

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