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What on earth is happening to UK retail?

Wednesday February 28, 2018

Photo caption: Independent hardware stores, cook shops, health food stores, artisan bakeries and the like are offering a new kind of retailing.


Opinion piece by Viridian Nutrition Founder, Cheryl Thallon.

Today’s announcements that Maplin and Toys R Us have both fallen into administration begs the question, ‘what on earth is happening to UK retail?’

The internet will be blamed for both stores’ demise, but is it really that simple? Sure, customers want the best price, and speedy delivery, but we also want advice, support and to be made to feel special – part of the community. And British shopkeepers used to be experts at these essentials.


In chain stores these days, you are made to feel like a spoiled child if you’d like someone to pack your bag for you or help you to the car with a large purchase. Shop staff are generally undertrained and feeling undervalued, and give as little to the customer, as they feel they are getting from their employers.


Remember walking into a hardware store with a widget and having an expert explain to you how the grommet fits on to it? Or a bakers where the bread was baked on the premises and cakes were iced by hand? Or a shoe shop where the shopkeeper would ask after your mum or your kids.


If you are under 50, you may think this is a rose-tinted version of a past that didn’t exist, but for those born pre-1970 that’s exactly what it was like. A row of specialist stores where everyone knew your mum, and a chat or a cheery wave came along with the shopping.


This may all be a distant memory for most of us, but there are pockets where this experience is still thriving and valued.


Independent hardware stores, cook shops, health food stores, artisan bakeries and the like are offering a new kind of retailing that blends the best of the 1950s with today’s ethical values.


Retailers are able to provide one-to-one advice and trusted follow-up as well as learning opportunities, time to mingle and chat, and great quality ethical goods with transparent provenance.


Although this generation has grown up with the mall as its primary shopping venue, the High Street is bouncing back, treating visitors as friends, giving them an educational and entertaining experience with caring and support, and featuring brands that reflect these values.


According to Deloittes: ‘Brand authenticity and sustainability are becoming increasingly important in retail. Consumers want to associate themselves with brands that have a sense of purpose and represent their views, beliefs and values. They are also becoming increasingly intolerant of brands who aren’t transparent and who don’t follow through on their promises.’


The independent retail sector is harnessing these bright artisan brands and offering educational experiences with a bit of theatre and drawing us all back to the specialist High Street for good service and a cheery wave.

Cheryl Thallon founded Viridian Nutrition in 1999, after a career in editorial and publishing management and natural product retailing. She is also co-owner of Sheaf Street Health Store in Northamptonshire where is she helping to coordinate a drive to regenerate the Daventry town centre experience.


TAGS: Nutrition News and Views


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