High Streets Initiative · 2 August 2017

Exclusive findings: How independent retailers plan on surviving the current plight of high street business

biz rates 2
Rising business rates is one factor crippling high street business

Superior customer service is the best way for independent UK retailers to compete against larger brands on the high street, while the rise of online shopping remains the most significant threat to high street business owners.

According to the results of our inaugural High Streets Initiative survey, having greater, more in-depth knowledge about the products they sell is another regularly cited way independent UK retailers can distinguish offerings from larger high street business rivals.

Over the last few months, Business Advice has been hearing the concerns and listening to the views of hundreds of the country’s independent business owners, and we’ve uncovered some fascinating insights, some of which we’ve included in our insightful infographic below.

An overwhelming 92 per cent of independent retail owners who responded to our survey said trading conditions on their local high street hadn’t improved at all in the past five years.

Alongside the rise of ecommerce, this year’s government-led business rates revaluation was found to be a major worry for independent retailers, with 19 per cent considering it to be the main threat to their high street business.

While most will welcome the government’s renewed commitment to ensuring the allocation of business rates relief – a promise has been made that local councils will receive updated software by 21 August, to guarantee small business owners receive revised bills quickly – many independent retailers continue to view the revaluation as a threat to survival.

In March, Lisa Ford, the owner of The Card Gallery, an independent card store based near Birmingham, told Business Advice about the impact of business rates on her venture.  “With business rates, you don’t see anything for what you pay,” she said.

“If business owners felt they were getting something for their money, perhaps they wouldn’t mind the increased rates. With [business rates], there’s no support or advice that comes with it, it’s just another cost for small business owners, whose margins are already slim.”

Generational changes in consumer behaviour, with fewer young people visiting town centre shopping districts, also ranked highly on independent retailers’ perceived list of threats, whilst local parking restrictions, and the growing presence of supermarkets encroaching on high streets, was found to be the biggest threat for 23 per cent and five per cent of high street business owner respectively.

In terms of the methods independent retailers are using to future-proof their firms, the largest proportion (30 per cent) view building an online presence as the most important factor, whilst 19 per cent see a secure future for their high street business in building a strong network of local decision makers.

Some 25 per cent consider recruiting the right people as crucial to the longevity of a successful small team, whilst a small proportion – 13 per cent and three per cent respectively – believe factors like marketing or new technologies, like contactless payment methods, are the most important investments independent retailers can make.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London. He previously worked as a reporter at Global Trade Review magazine.

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