Business development · 28 September 2016

Independent shops are the “glue” holding communities together

Of the shopkeepers surveyed, 51 per cent were reported to actively lobby local councils to improve infrastructure

Britain’s independent shops are playing an increasingly important role in local communities, as a new study has shown the strong levels of engagement between shopkeepers and those that they serve in the face of an increasingly bleak outlook for small retailers.

According to a new retail study by AXA Insurance that highlighted the impact of small businesses in local areas, local shops are responsible for 110,700 community events each year – two for each UK town and village – while 51 per cent were reported to actively lobby local councils to improve local infrastructure.

Independent stores were found to act as facilitators for further enterprise in the near environment. Of the 300 village shops included in the study, 72 per cent provided retail space for local crafts, artists and food producers, while 30 per cent of shopkeepers said that their shop attracted tourists to the area.

The study drew attention to the culture of goodwill among local retailers, particularly in providing essential amenities to Britain’s growing elderly population. A third of the independent shopkeepers surveyed said that local pensioners wouldn’t be able to find an alternative store if they closed.

In a statement, Darrell Sansom, managing director of AXA Business Insurance, celebrated the “local networks” cultivated by independent shopkeepers, as stores act as an effective force for good in the community.

“Across the country local shops are the glue that holds communities together and help people feel a sense of local identity and pride,” said Sansom.

The AXA study claimed that one in ten independent shops have closed in the last decade, and more than half of the retailers surveyed said that their shopping district is in decline due to under-investment.

One of the factors affecting the prosperity of independent shops is the continuing trend towards cashless payments. According to research by payment processor Wordplay, in 2015 consumer purchases on card exceeded cash for the first time, as a quarter of shoppers claimed that they’ve started avoiding shops that don’t accepts card payments.

The Worldpay study also found that one-in-ten independent retailers still refuse card payments, while a further ten per cent impose a minimum spend limit.

Recent research has also shown a shift in the UK’s shopping culture. A report from the Local Data Company (LDC) revealed that as high streets see a decline in shop spaces being filled, retail parks have gained more units than any other type of location – adding 1,300 units in the last five years.

Commenting on the report’s findings, director of the LDC, Matthew Hopkinson, said: “It is not only how we shop, but where we shop has changed dramatically.”

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Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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