Shoppers discover loyalty to local traders

By Barbara Chandler, @sunnygran

Here’s some good news (at last) for shops in Chiswick and elsewhere hit hard by Covid-19. Research by international analysts GlobalData reveals that one in three British consumers will now visit local shops more frequently than they did before the crisis. And the reason? A renewed sense of community.

“The covid-19 pandemic has seen neighbours helping each other with shopping and setting up social groups to stay connected,” said Sofie Willmott, lead retail analyst. “Local retailers have played their part, adjusting services to cater for their neighbourhoods, quickly introducing contactless deliveries to make their stock available and keep their business afloat.” In Chiswick, independent food stores and cafes in particular have come up trumps with new ways to order by telephone and online, backed by personal delivery services.

But Ms Wilmott warns that “non-essential” independent retailers will struggle after lockdown, as new safety measures will be costly, and could limit customers. But many consumers, she says, may now have an “allegiance” to small independents – “they’ve built a relationship with staff or owners, they appreciate what they do, and they may assume that large retailers are better able to cope with a drop in sales.” Let’s hope so, as shopping is high on Chiswick’s list of attractions, and we are loved for our special mix of idiosyncratic, expert and often well-established independents and varied branches of specialist high-end chains.

Image above: Clothes from Lizard ladies wear – a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme

Images above: Handmade bags and shoes from Elias and Grandsons – a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme

Other factors may boost local trade. People are now scared of using tubes and buses and prefer to travel on foot or by bike. Chiswick shops are conveniently close together and very walkable. Travelling by car is promoted as very “safe”. Could there be bookable parking slots?

It’s also estimated that around 65 per cent of our workforce is now operating from home, and this will continue at least partially even when lockdown ends. Local shops will benefit accordingly – it will be trickier to nip to the big stores in the lunch hour.

Images above: Summer hats and jeans at L.A. Menswear – a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme

However, the way we shop will be radically different. Consumers have been forced online. Apart from the huge frustration of being unable to get a grocery delivery, sales of other goods have rocketed, and even internet virgins have found it convenient and easy, with fast deliveries and no heavy bags. And very safe. Crucially, they may even have preferred it. If that paddling pool, bread-maker or sewing machine (lockdown must-haves, it seems) has sold out, at least you know it before leaving home.

Trawling the internet is less tiring than crawling the High Street. And there’s a younger generation that in any event is screen-fixated and habitually communicates by text and email, eschewing personal interactions. As for those groceries, the more agile local stores have benefited – though the big boys are sharpening their acts. And the Deliveroo app now has a groceries department listing local stores, in addition to the restaurants.

 

Images above: Food and wines at Hammonds Butcher & Delicatessen – a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme

So internet sales will remain strong, but small shops can grab their share. The more savvy local stores have used the lockdown to improve and expand their websites, and hone their social media channels. They can be available to deal instantly with enquiries (by telephone or “live chat”) – thus retaining that valued personal element. They can do video links, using phone pictures to make suggestions, demonstrate, and field queries. They may offer click and collect. Adeptly handled, the internet can promote, boost and support sales, rather than replace them.

Opening after lockdown, many specialist stores in Chiswick and elsewhere will require appointments and will limit visitor numbers. So browsing in person and impulse buys could become distant memories – goodbye “just looking.” Arguably it’s better browsing on a website, anyway. Shopping as an “experience,” seen as the saviour of retail just a few months ago (John Lewis had even installed “experience desks”) seems dead in the water for now. Shops have closed their coffee bars and even their toilets.

But confusingly, each store is interpreting the government guidelines in their own way. As “non-essential “stores crank back into action, we’ll bring news of how and when they are opening.

 

Images above: Stephen Foster, owner of Foster Books; David Hockney’s ‘Alphabet’ – Foster Books is a member of The Chiswick Calendar’s Club Card scheme

Barbara Chandler is a Chiswick resident and design editor of the Evening Standard

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