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Retailers call on shoppers to buy from local shops | Business

Retailers call on shoppers to buy from local shops | Business


Retailers are appealing to customers to support their local shops to help them survive the coronavirus pandemic, which has devastated high street trade.

“It’s really important people go back to using their high street,” said Gary Grant, the owner of toy chain The Entertainer. “We employ local people in local towns and if I want to hold on to my staff I need turnover.”

Thousands of stores, selling everything from clothing to footwear, books and electrical equipment, will reopen in England on Monday as the government lifts restrictions on non-essential shops that were imposed at the height of the pandemic in March. The lockdown has cost non-food retailers £1.7bn a week in lost sales, according to the Office for National Statistics.

The number of people venturing out to shop in May was just 20% of those out and about last year, according to the monthly British Retail Consortium-ShopperTrak survey. Despite the lifting of restrictions, the BRC experts predict only a modest pick-up in the coming days.

Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said that even as retailers reopened there was “still a risk that many physical shops could end up closing their doors again – only this time, permanently”.

The BRC said retailers were in dire straits, and called on the government to temporarily cut VAT to help boost demand. “A mix of low consumer confidence and limits on the number of people able to enter stores mean that many shops will continue to suffer lower footfall – and lower sales – for some time to come,” Dickinson explained.

The lockdown has wiped out an entire season for fashion retailers, with Debenhams, Quiz and Monsoon among the high street names to have announced store closures and job losses during the quarantine. The latest sign of distress comes from upmarket fashion brand AllSaints, which is asking its landlords for steep rent cuts – using an insolvency process known as a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) – at its 40 UK stores so it can ride out the storm.

Even with shops open, Britons need to feel confident it is safe to return. A recent poll by the Royal Society for Public Health found about half of the respondents planned to visit the high street less frequently than before the pandemic despite widespread new safety measures.

Stores in European countries, such as France and Italy, which are several weeks ahead of the UK in emerging from the lockdown, have seen footfall rise by about 15 to 25 percentage points from their nadir.

Neil Old, who runs high street jewellers H Samuel and Ernest Jones, said there might be an initial surge in trading this week but he is worried that it could take a while for footfall to recover.

“There might be an initial surge as the doors first open then, as the dust settles, there will be a new underlying level of footfall going into stores,” he said.

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“Until we know how people are going to respond to this new environment it’s very difficult to predict how quickly footfall will go back to pre-pandemic levels, but I honestly believe that it will build across the summer.”

The US-owned jeweller has permanently closed 82 of its 435 UK stores in response to the lockdown and changing shopping habits, including the shift to online shopping.

Waterstones, which is reopening about 230 stores on Monday, is optimistic shoppers will want to return after months of getting their retail fix online. “No matter how good your algorithms are, it’s simply data,” said it chief operating officer, Kate Skipper. “The interaction between bookseller and customer means you can provide bespoke recommendations. Our stores still feel exactly like a bookshop but with the safety measures that I think everybody expects to see.”

The reopening of 160 Entertainer stores feels celebratory to Grant. He said at points he went from “genuinely thinking it would go bust” to being confident it would survive, albeit “weaker and bruised”.

“It is a really important day for us, as a retailer, that we can actually open our shops to the public again. We think we’re actually going to be quite busy.”


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