Why the time for local businesses to recover is now

Rafal Golebiewski, managing director, SMB, Elavon Europe explains why the focus needs to be on getting the customer experience right to encourage loyalty and build trust in a changing retail environment

The return to the high street is an unmissable opportunity for shops, restaurants, pubs and bars to attract customers back after a challenging period for the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors. The key to success will be offering unforgettable customer service, unique products and experiences, and convenient payment and delivery options to ensure they will keep coming back.

As concerns around the Omicron variant have eased and consumer confidence gradually returns, we saw a positive consecutive increase in footfall across towns and cities on our local high streets in January and February, according to recent data by Springboard.

Recent data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that retail sales increased by 1.9% in January, a promising increase after a 4% drop in sales in December 2021, which suggests that demand is once again growing for in-store shopping.

There are several factors driving the return to high streets. As employees continue to return to office working or establish hybrid-working patterns in towns and cities, we are starting to see an increase in lunchtime shoppers coming for a quick browse or to pick things up during their lunch break or stop into their favourite café. We are also seeing appetite to eat out, catch-up with friends and socialise in larger groups as the restrictions have eased and confidence to mix has returned.

There has also been a significant change in spending habits as a result of the pandemic. Consumers want to shop more mindfully and ethically than ever before, and they increasingly support and champion independent and local businesses. Our research found that 20% of consumers planned to buy from more local businesses than before, and 90% of consumers are passionate about supporting brands with socially responsible and ethical values.

With increasing footfall and appetite for shopping and dining out, retail and hospitality businesses have an opportunity to build loyalty and popularity with regular events to showcase the brand, with pop-ups and unique experiences such as exclusive previews of new products, influencer events and in-store gigs that can be shared across social media channels, to grow awareness with potential customers and other local businesses.

To succeed on the high street, businesses do not necessarily require significant investment or a full e-commerce solution with all the bells and whistles, such as procurement and inventory systems. Primarily, the focus needs to be on getting the customer experience right to encourage loyalty and build trust in a changing retail environment. It is worth thinking practically about options for the shoppers who can’t get out to visit your store and other ways you can get products to local customers, particularly after the unpredictable stormy weather we saw during the February half-term, which can have a significant impact on footfall.

Smaller or independent companies do not require a complicated solution with too many delivery slots or options. Some local shops and restaurants are offering delivery one day per week or are using basic e-commerce websites with ‘Click and Collect’ capabilities. Despite the appetite for dining out, food delivery remains popular, and therefore, restaurants and cafés that can offer a convenient click-and-collect, cook-at-home meal kit or takeaway delivery will have more opportunities to increase sales and build loyalty with customers.

Businesses should also increase their online and social media presence and highlight their business within local communities through locally trending hashtags, optimising their website and social media groups to generate more footfall from locals. It has never been so easy for consumers to discover local businesses on their doorstep.

It is exciting to see towns and cities buzzing with activity again, and as footfall continues to recover, the opportunities for local businesses to kickstart their growth on the high street are endless.

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