Rural shopkeepers demand improved digital infrastructure to meet investment ambitions
Britain’s rural shopkeepers invested 315m into their business in 2017, new research has found, but poor digital infrastructure has undermined efforts to deliver crucial services to local communities.
The 2018 Rural Shop Report, released by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), confirmed the importance of local convenience stores to rural areas, and provided an overview of the challenges facing such business owners.
With independent retailers making up 76 per cent of all rural stores, the sector is predominantly populated by small business owners. Rural shops also make up a third of all UK convenience stores.
As the majority of rural stores operate with no other business or service provider nearby, many are providing essential products and services that would otherwise be absent to local communities, such as bill payment services, free-to-use cash machines and postal services.
In 2017, rural shopkeepers invested a total of 315m into new services like contactless payment technologies and Post Office counters to meet the needs of customers. Investment increased steadily throughout each quarter, demonstrating optimistic outlook among business owners.
February 2017: 59m
May 2017: 74m
August 2017: 88m
November 2017: 94m
However, lack of high speed internet infrastructure, poor mobile data coverage and effective support for rising business rates have continued to cause concerns for rural shopkeepers.
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In 2015, the government proposed a?Universal Service Obligation (USO)that set of a target of delivering speeds above ten megabits per second (Mbit/s) for every home and office premises in Britain. ACS welcomed this commitment, but recent Ofcom research revealed that 65, 000 rural business owners continue to access internet speeds below this benchmark.
Commenting on the report, James Lowman, ACS chief executive, detailed some of the unique challenges facing rural shopkeepers, and called for new government strategies to support local high streets.
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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