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British shoppers spent an extra 63% at food and drink specialist stores, such as butchers, bakeries and greengrocers, in February compared to the same month last year, according to new data from Barclaycard Payments. The research shows that the increase in sales that many independent food retailers have seen during the pandemic is down to almost two-thirds of Brits choosing to shop closer to home over the past year.
Barclaycard predicts that this trend will be a legacy of lockdown, with nine in 10 of those who shopped locally throughout the pandemic choosing to support smaller and independent businesses after restrictions ease.
“Echoes of this pandemic will be heard long after lockdown is lifted through a sustained shift in our buying behaviours,” said Tom Cheesewright, a leading futurist who teamed up with Barclaycard to produce the data. “Changes we expected to happen over a decade have been condensed into a year.”
Andrew Goodacre, CEO of Bira, welcomed the research, which he said supports similar studies by other financial companies. He told Speciality Food: “It is great news for independent retailers who thrive on meeting the needs of local customers and communities.”
He urged independents to continue developing their social media presence, websites and shop experience to take full advantage of the positive trend, saying there is “no room for complacency”. Despite this, he is positive about the local shopping trend in the long term. “Covid-19 restrictions have given us all the opportunity to really appreciate our local communities and shops, and I am sure that the loyalty will continue.”
Emma Mosey of Minskip Farm Shop has seen a “huge increase” in customer numbers over the past year. “We are so grateful for this local support, which has transformed our business.” The shop has gone from eight employees in March 2020 to 35.
“This is largely due to local customers visiting us more regularly and spending more with us on each visit.” Emma is hopeful that the change will be permanent. “Despite the various lockdowns and changes over the last 12 months, our customer numbers are still more than double what they were before the pandemic. We believe that these changes have been going on long enough for them to potentially be permanent habit changes.”
Other indies are more sceptical about the local shopping boom. Mark Kacary, managing director of The Norfolk Deli, told Speciality Food that although many consumers are feeling thankful for their local shops now, as people return to work and a sense of normality resumes, their good intentions about local shopping risk being forgotten. “I feel that any small independent which has benefitted from this period needs to plan for the possibility that this level of support will disappear as quickly as it appeared,” he warned.
For that reason, it is critical for retailers to build up their presence in their local community ahead of an expected bumper summer trading period.
Ben Ozmen, founder of BENS Greengrocer has been building relationships with new customers that he believes will pay off in the long run. “A high percentage have now become regulars that we have built a rapport with. Of course, once we go back to ‘normal’ we expect to see a little drop off, purely because people are away from their homes more so will need fewer ingredients for cooking.
“What we like to think is that because we have built up a relationship with these customers they are much more likely to return post lockdown,” Ben tells Speciality Food.
Megan Adams of Re:Store refill shop has also seen a renewed interest in local shopping from her customers. “People have definitely now made the connection between where they spend their money and whether or not independent businesses in their area survive. It feels like there is a really supportive momentum behind local shops, and we hope it continues.”
With Covid-19 restrictions expected to ease this summer, the return to normality may be just around the corner.
The UK is likely to see a rise in staycations this summer, and in preparation for the influx in footfall, the government has launched a new £56 million Welcome Back Fund to help councils boost tourism, improve green spaces and provide more outdoor seating areas, markets and food stall pop-ups, with the aim of offering safer options for meetings between friends and family.
“Our Welcome Back Fund gives every city, town and high street support to prepare for a great summer. This funding will help councils and businesses to welcome shoppers, diners and tourists back safely,” said communities secretary Robert Jenrick.
However, Bira’s Andrew said the funding is a “double-edged sword” for retail. “We always welcome money to bring people back to the high streets. This money hints that many more people will be taking holidays in the UK this year and so the resorts need to be welcoming. However, from the retailers’ perspective, they would have welcomed the extra money being used to deliver more financial aid.”
With this summer set to be a busy one for retailers, it will pay to heed Andrew’s advice: don’t fall into complacency, but instead build relationships with your customers that will help you capitalise on the local shopping trend in the long term.