• DJ

The Cwmbwrla Connections Advent Calendar - Day Fourteen


Last week the Welsh Retail Consortium warned that a stop-start year of lockdowns and social distancing restrictions had left the sector “on a knife edge”. And retailers were already facing their fair share of challenges long before Coronavirus made an appearance.

In 2019 Britain’s town centre vacancy rate – the indicator of empty retail units in prime locations – rose to over 10 per cent. High street footfall and shopping centre footfall were both slipping by 3 per cent year on year. In a nutshell, we’re less and less likely to buy from shops and more and more likely to buy from websites.

Apart from the obvious impact on retailers, there’s an argument that this can have negative consequences for communities. If people aren’t shopping in familiar locations, they’re not socialising in nearby cafes or leisure facilities. There’s also a knock-on effect for government spending. Retail currently makes up five per cent of the British economy but retailers pay ten per cent of all business costs and twenty five per cent of all business taxes. Less customers mean less tax revenue, less tax revenue means less investment and less investment means less prosperous communities. Not a pretty picture.

What’s the answer?

An ecommerce giant such as Amazon can deliver the goods efficiently, but can it do more than that? The surest way to get customers to buy into your brand is to give them a memorable, immersive experience. Online shoppers have multiple distractions from the screen they’re using and the environment they’re using it in. Stores that welcome shoppers with appealing branding, technology that showcases their products and, crucially, the opportunity to pick up and use those products still have an edge. Big, cinematic screens to welcome you in. Smaller, interactive screens to engage and inform you. If you’re selling a mobile phone or a tablet, this kind of hi-tech, interactive experience is priceless.

What if you’re not selling anything hi-tech? What if you’re selling something as simple as a greeting card or a really good plate of food? In Cwmbwrla people flock to Colin’s Cards and Kath’s Korner Kafe because of the quality of the products, the warmth and friendliness of the service and the sense that they’re not just handing over money for a transaction. They’re joining in with a community experience. They’re talking to people who understand their lives and care about them. They’re talking to people who were there to support them long before anyone had heard of Coronavirus and will still be there to support them long after we’ve all been vaccinated against it.

The best way to sweep a customer off their feet is for them to be standing up in the first place. And standing on your premises.

Retail is alive and kicking. Local shops and cafes have a huge part to play in our lives, as long as they do what Colin Lightfoot, Jo Brooks and Kathy Craven do and truly care about their customers, putting themselves right at the heart of the community. That’s when a café becomes more than just a café, and a shop becomes more than just a shop.

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