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Fight for our High Streets – Use them or Lose them!
It's been an exceptionally tough year for our high street shops. Not only have they had to fight against stiff competition from online retailers, but they have also been battling the economic downturn, which has been partly caused by the continued uncertainty over Brexit.
Despite Prime Minister Theresa May surviving a vote of no confidence in her leadership on 12th December (securing 63% of the total vote), the discord was described as "devastating" for the Government, and Britain appears to be no closer to securing a favourable exit deal from the European Union in 2019.
© Alexey Fedorenko / Adobe Stock
The current trading climate has been temporarily boosted by Christmas spending, but come 2019, when the flurry of festive shopping is over for another year, it will be crucial that consumers support their local high street to save it from a downward slide.
The high street is central to the local community, with the retail stores bringing in other businesses, such as pubs, restaurants, cafés and leisure facilities. The loss of the high street would mean the collapse of the local community, not to mention the loss of thousands of jobs and disaster for the economy.
Internet shopping sites are thriving, with online retail giant Amazon seeing its sales increase by almost one-third in the 12 months leading up to December 2017. The company reported total sales for the full year of £124.6 billion - an increase of 31% on the same period the previous year.
High street advantages
Active steps are being taken to save our shops, with business leaders promoting the advantages of shopping in a brick and mortar store. The main benefit is that customers can see and touch the items in person. Whether it's tasting a new product in the supermarket or taking the kids along to try out new toys, the high street has plenty of advantages.
There are also plenty of handy tips to get some great deals when shopping on the high street. According to the consumer website Money Saving Expert, many retailers have "hidden codes" on their price tags. The codes have been spotted on tickets at Next, Monsoon, River Island and other major brands.
According to the MSE website, Next's codes include G4, B14, S13, P7, OB9 and more. The letters apparently relate to the location of sale items in the store, while the number is generally the price that the item's about to be marked down to.
According to insider information from shop assistants, the sale price usually kicks in about a week after the letters appear on the price tag, so it's worth popping in and keeping an eye on the sales, so you don't miss a bargain.
Large electrical outlets have certain clearance items that they need to sell fast. Any prices ending in one, seven, or eight - such as an item selling at £19.97 rather than £19.99, for example - can mean an opportunity for haggling. It can mean the item is discontinued and needs to be gone to make way for the new stock.
Although some consumers may not like haggling, you don't know until you ask! It's always worth having a go at seeing if the retailer will accept a lower price. Haggling isn't reserved for markets and car boot sales - you can haggle anywhere.
A 2016 survey by Money Saving Expert revealed 60% of customers’ haggling efforts were successful.
High street fights back
So, what's being done to keep customers interested in spending their hard-earned cash on their local high street? For credit card company Visa, it was a case of gearing up their festive TV advert to Keep It Local This Christmas.
The Christmas ad for Visa was their UK debut, featuring nine real shopkeepers (including a florist, a bookseller, a baker and a butcher) asking people to visit their local high street to do their festive shopping, thus supporting the community.
Meanwhile, entrepreneur Andrew Mills is helping the high street to fight back against online competition with the launch of Virtualstock, known as the "ultimate supply chain solution". Mills is ensuring high street retailers can adapt to the digital age through his software platform, The Edge.
It assists old-fashioned retailers (who may not have a lot of digital experience) to link with personnel and processes across the supply chain in a smart way. In a nutshell, it ensures high street stores can fulfil supply and demand in an effective manner, so they can compete with larger chains and online retailers.
It provides an accurate, single overview of all the retailers' stock, across all channels. This means the complete inventory, including the stores, warehouses, suppliers and distribution centres, can now be viewed and assessed in a central point.
Revitalised town centre
Some local high streets are taking matters into their own hands to fight back against the online giants such as Amazon. The old pit town of Doncaster saw 5% of its high street stores close down in 2017, as it lost its fight against internet shopping. Those that ceased trading included several independent businesses and chains such as Poundworld.
This year, Doncaster Council launched a project to offer shoppers something that digital shops can't: human interaction and family fun. The former BHS store has been transformed into an indoor trampoline park called Flip Out, while a former outdoor car park has become a theatre and arts venue called Cast.
In 2020, a new Cultural and Learning Centre will be launched, including a museum and a library. In addition, Doncaster's community of artists and creative people is becoming increasingly proactive in helping to transform the town centre, so that closed shops don't remain empty for long.
Their vision of what the town could become is helping the council decide on the future of the high street. There are now plans to reopen the old Victorian Wool Market - a stunning building that will be full of food outlets that remain open in the evening. The high street businesses and the council say they won't go down without a fight!
When you're a high street retailer up against stiff competition from online stores, give yourself every advantage - make your premises as attractive and welcoming to customers as possible.
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