Jane Imrie

Shop Local Week: What businesses really think of the government's new initiative

Today marks the start of Shop Local Week (10-16 August), an initiative introduced by the government in a bid to boost small businesses across the country.

The campaign, led by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, aims to encourage shoppers to boost their local economy following the disruption of the COVID-19 crisis.

It is hoped that the initiative will support jobs, reduce environmental impact, foster a sense of community and revitalise towns that have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown.

Bdaily spoke with a number of business leaders to get their take on Shop Local Week, and see what advantages and challenges it may bring.

Ally Dowsing-Reynolds, co-owner at Leeds-based interiors fixtures and fittings business Dowsing & Reynolds

“Independent shops add such diversity and vibrancy to a high street. We’re encouraged by this campaign as it means bringing attention to some really brilliant, independent businesses in Leeds.

“It’s also important for us to support each other and encourage our customers to shop local and visit other nearby businesses. Our aim as a local economy should be to create amazing clusters of independent shops that offer customers variety.

“It’s been such a shame to see some close due to the pressures of the pandemic, but by continuing to support those local shops and businesses that are still open, we can make the high street a happy, bustling (but safe!) place to shop once again.

“We need to empower shoppers with the confidence to browse stores safely, so, like many other Leeds businesses, we’ve worked really hard to create an environment in our Leeds showroom that reflects this.

“Shoppers will only come back to the high street if they feel it’s safe for themselves and their families, so this has been a key challenge and focus for us.”

Adam Hadley, CEO of strategic data analytics firm QuantSpark

“The challenge of Shop Local Week is that on top of the increased pressure from the coronavirus, a lot of retailers were struggling due to two broader trends.

“The first problem is that business rates are very high. This is, in a sense, a deliberate government policy decision to penalise physical stores and this has left online only players much more profitable because they don’t have to pay these business rates. This gives online retailers an obvious advantage.

“Secondly, online shopping is clearly more personalisable. It’s far easier to sell whatever a particular customer wants and it’s easier to optimise and to improve the proposition when it’s online. These two trends mean that there is naturally more pressure on physical retail.

“Local shops do have the benefit of being able to customise their offering specifically to their area they’re in though. This is a formula that has been effective for many retailers; figuring out what the demands of a certain area are and catering your offering to that.

“Ultimately, even with incentives like shop local week and some arguing that physical retail will bounce back after coronavirus, the reality is that the coronavirus has accelerated the decline we were already seeing - it’s been sped up by three to five years.”

Didier Penine, director of personalised champagne company Say It With Champers

“Financially, the Shop Local Week will help bring business to town centres as shops are desperate for business right now.

“My business is a personalised champagne company, my online sales have rocketed yet the lack of footfall in town centres has caused significant issues to that side of my business.

“If shop local week brings more people into town centres then it will have a positive effect on local economies.

The main issue with bringing people into town centres is that it will increase the amount of people in confined spaces and the things these people touch, which will inevitably lead to a higher infection rate.

“The safest way to purchase goods is online, and while from a business perspective we welcome the move, from a safety perspective the decision is rather questionable.

“In theory the obvious benefit to all of this is increased football and turnover, however accommodating extra people into my store is not possible so whether it will increase business in real terms for the smaller business is very debatable indeed.

“The move from offline to online shopping is now irreversible and this move is probably only just delaying the inevitable.”

Kelly Wright, founder of Edinburgh-based plastic free grocery store The Refillery

“Supporting local shops is so important right now and provides a much needed lifeline for local communities. Local businesses provide a service that cannot be matched by national chains as they understand the needs of their local communities.

“As a local grocery store, The Refillery remained open throughout lockdown. This provided a much needed lifeline to local people who struggled to get online slots from major supermarkets.

“We were able to react quickly to ensure the safety of our customers, implementing social distancing, hand sanitiser, extra cleaning regimes and later installing a hand wash sink on the shop floor. We also launched a local click and collect service and free delivery service for anyone self-isolating.

“Sadly other shops have not been as fortunate, with many struggling to maintain cash flow. When local shops are supported it gives local economies a much needed boost. Shop Local Week will hopefully provide a platform for more people to learn about what is actually available on their local high street.”

Maria Whitehead, co-owner of Cumbria-based artisan preserve specialist Hawkshead Relish

“I think the promotion is good in that it will help to focus the public towards small businesses that really need the support from customers at this time.

“As a small business we don’t have the back-up of large cash reserves to help get through the difficulties of the pandemic and every customer is hugely valued with every penny spent going into the local economy.

“People can shop local even though they not wish to physically visit a shop, either by ordering online for home delivery or for click and collect - it’s more about supporting small local businesses than immediately looking for the major supermarkets and online stores to stock up.

“We have invested in screens, hand sanitising stations and creating a safe environment for customers to browse and shop safely.

“More widely most local shops stock a range of products not available in the major high street retailers and gives the customer a wider choice, especially within the food and drink sector.

“Being in a tourist area we are receiving higher numbers of visitors which is encouraging and those people staying in holiday cottages and camping are supporting local businesses to buy their produce during their break away. [This] has to be encouraged and it’s important that businesses make it easy and safe for visitors to shop locally whilst on holiday.

“Without the support of the public many small businesses will not survive, especially as the government support is scaled back in the coming weeks. There has to be general and lasting change in the way we shop and live permanently.”

John Sinclair, owner and managing director of Edinburgh-based destination Craigies Farm

“Recent months have been hugely challenging for UK businesses and it is important that during Shop Local Week, people ‘think local’ and support the fantastic small businesses in the towns and villages around them during what has been a difficult time.

“Local economies depend on the support of the communities around them and consumers must be reminded that when you shop with your local grocer, butcher, bakery, florist or farm shop, you are not just supporting local and home suppliers and producers, but you are supporting their families and saving jobs.

“It has been great to see more customers coming out to Craigies Farm to eat, shop and have fun in recent weeks and we hope that we will see an extra boost this week, not only from people coming through our doors but from those showing support by sharing positive reviews or leaving feedback on social media. It all helps!”

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