Updated on 18/08/2020
How often do you shop locally nowadays? Do you shop locally more now than you did before lockdown kicked in?
Trade body ‘Co-operatives UK’ recently released a YouGov poll which revealed that 30% of consumers claim to have used local retailers more since the pandemic struck, with 80% of them aiming to continue this shopping habit into the future. So, the immediate future of local shopping looks positive for small businesses. This news will likely be welcomed by a great number of businesses across the UK, who may have experienced a closure or partial closure due to coronavirus. However, with coronavirus forcing the closure, or partial closure, of a great number of businesses across the UK, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that small business owners may be facing financial challenges.
Even with new safety measures being put in place, significant challenges exist in encouraging customers to resume their normal shopping habits and buy from SMEs, rather than relying on the reliable delivery services offered by major blue-chip companies such as Amazon and Tesco.
Some noteworthy changes to consumer shopping habits brought about by lockdown include:
So, how do we reconcile these three factors? If people are unwilling to travel great distances yet also hesitant to embrace physical stores, what’s the overall impact on local shopping?
The BBC suggests that high streets may flourish, and that the consequence of all this activity could well be that local shops gain more and more business as time progresses. With more people working from home, and therefore spending more time in their local areas, there’s a good chance that shops will benefit from increased exposure to passers-by, which could lead to new opportunities emerging for them to win custom.
Early signs of consumer support for local businesses are already emerging, the Guardian reports. Research from Kantar revealed that small independent stores across the country have seen a 69% uplift in sales in the three months leading up to 20th June which could suggest that lockdown has created more opportunities for local businesses.
If small businesses are bringing in more money from local sales, does that mean people are visiting the shops more often? Not necessarily, as YouGov data suggests that the frequency with which people visit the shops has stayed roughly the same, even declining slightly. What this could mean, though, is that when people do go to the shops, they’re buying more.
If consumers are feeling comfortable enough to spend more when shopping locally, and choosing to support local businesses (as their uplift in sales would indicate), then small businesses may feel optimistic about the potential revenue opportunities in market, and could look to do everything in their power to stand out over competitors and connect with potential customers.
Even more positive news for local business owners comes in the form of the government’s recent announcement of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which gives hospitality businesses an opportunity to offer customers discounted food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays throughout August. This move is hoped to entice more customers to eat out, and to protect the profitability of businesses by allowing them to claim back the discounted money they have lost, from the government, who ‘help out’.
The move is designed to help small local businesses who may be struggling to generate revenues in this difficult period, whilst also helping out national chains who may also have seen less orders in recent months.
Google searches for ‘restaurant near me’ look to be returning to pre-lockdown levels, and potentially surpassing them, following the announcement of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme.
Whilst we can’t predict the exact outcome of the scheme, we suspect that it may drive more people to eat out locally. Fortunately for small businesses, food can be a key part of community events- encouraging people to spend more time in shopping locations such as town centres, which could have a positive knock-on effect for businesses in areas with high footfall.
We’ve identified some of the key trends emerging around local shopping, but what’s the best way to capitalise upon them? While this may differ from business to business, it could be worth exploring some of the following ideas:
If it proves true that people feel a sense of community and show a desire to support local businesses, then using the word ‘local’ in your marketing activity could tap into that sentiment and encourage people to connect with your marketing materials.
By targeting advertisements locally and demonstrating some of your fantastic product/service offerings, you may reach audiences who resonate with your messaging and connect with your ‘local’ approach.
It’s possible that customers, assuming they’re now more open-minded about shopping locally, are keen to explore what is on offer in their local area, so it may be worth testing out some ads on social media or Google and gauging how effective they prove to be.
What’s more, local community groups on Facebook could prove to be a good way of generating awareness for your local business. This is primarily because the audiences you’re likely to connect with by investing time here are almost entirely local, so treating them to enticing discount offers and being seen to contribute to your local community could really give your business a boost.
Perhaps the only way to effectively reduce customer apprehension about the potential safety risks associated with going into physical shops is to make your safety policies absolutely clear to your customer base (and prospective customer base).
A great way of doing this, which you’ve likely thought about already, is to create a landing page on your website which describes your cleaning policies in depth. Updating this page to reflect the latest guidelines could show customers that you’re really keen to uphold proper safety measures and follow guidelines to the T.
What’s more, visually representing your safety measures is a great way to get the message across straight away to consumers, so putting a picture of your new safety processes near the top of this page and then showcasing similar images in your external communications too (i.e. by having it physically printed in your window or around your store) could be a great way of reassuring and comforting customers - making your chances of securing sales that little bit higher.
As consumers are starting to show signs of returning back to normality and engaging in local shopping activity, it’s incredibly important that small businesses do all they can to inform customers of their commitment to guaranteeing customer safety in-store. By doing so, and by also tailoring messaging to connect with local communities, these businesses could encourage more customers to shop with them.