Home » Future of Retail and E-Commerce » Don’t give up on the high street just yet

Emma Jones

Founder of Small Business Support Group, Enterprise Nation

The retail landscape is changing and evolving – and so is the world of work. Finding an innovative way to unite the online and offline worlds is vital for our communities and entrepreneurs.

The UK’s high streets are calling out for more attention while more retail firms choose to trade online only. But there is one obvious solution: help these online traders explore the offline world in innovative ways, says Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation.

According to ONS data, ecommerce accounted for £137.38 billion in sales last year. That equates to 16% of overall retail sales. Back in 2012, it was 9%.

To make our high streets busy and vibrant again, it’s a viable proposition to explore bringing these retail and service-based firms back offline and into physical stores.

Getting small brands – physically – in front of buyers and influencers

Small retailers are often home-based and rarely get the chance to meet their online customers. This means they do not have easy opportunities to demonstrate their saleability to buyers and stockists, influencers or journalists.

In turn, online customers miss the opportunity to try things on, sample products or just say hi.

Testing face-to-face retail opportunities for small online brands

Inviting buyers or bloggers into your kitchen or back bedroom is not an appealing prospect, for either party. However, a new pilot is currently being tested for ten brands at a time, to co-work and co-fund a shop for a limited period of time.

Each shop is open for six weeks and retail cohorts can trade, invite stockists, bloggers, customers and buyers to see them in situ and, more importantly, see their product in a retail environment. Most sign up to trade for two weeks at a time so there will be three groups in total while the pop-up is open.

It’s a retail test bed, delivering fabulous social media content and, in many ways, should be regarded as part of any company’s marketing mix.

Small retailers need business support and advice

Pilots such as these need business support via advisers and accountants, so retailers can receive advice on finances, cash flow, social media, how to scale and, in particular, how to incorporate bricks and mortar into a business plan.

The results will be analysed and submitted to the Government following the call for new ideas to inform the Future High Streets strategy.

Ahead of that analysis, we’ve seen some interesting results so far. Most traders report that working together has been one of the best parts of the pilot. Findings from a recent Small Business Barometer that found that 50% of small business owners admitted to feeling lonely.

The traders involved collaborated, shared knowledge and shared contacts. Many have met important new business connections that have sparked new supplier contracts or produced new stockists.

Day-to-day shop life can be mentally and physically exhausting

Limitations around shop life include standing up for eight hours a day, being away from the business, plus, the psychological impact of ‘slow’ days.

The reality is that high street retail is not for all, but we think it will play an increasing part in a retail brands’ offering.

It may become the norm for traders to factor two weeks in London and two weeks in Manchester shops every year, for example.

Let’s not give up on the high street just yet.

Enterprise Nation has been running a pilot in conjunction with Amazon, Square and Direct Line for Business to offer small firms an affordable taste at least of what life on the high street feels like.

Clicks and Mortar has now opened three pop-up shops in Manchester, Cardiff and Edinburgh with Sheffield set to open on September 27, and more planned in the new year. By the time the last shop has closed, we’ll have given hundreds of small firms an opportunity to test trade on the High Street and in shopping centres and malls.

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