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Independent retailers fight back online

By Retail Technology | Monday October 28 2013

New e-commerce network formed by High Street retail coalition is aiming to enable the UK’s independent retailers to fight for their share of online shopping market

Independent retailers are fighting to compete with the likes of Amazon, Tesco and other major supermarket giants with the launch this week of an innovative programme to take 200 of Britain’s High Streets online.
 
With one in seven shops across High Streets lying empty, a cross-industry coalition of MyHigh.St, the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and Rakuten’s Play.com, working with Action for Market Towns and the Association of Town and City Management, have joined forces to boost the fortunes of independent retailers.
 
The coalition – called target200 – is launching a new e-commerce network that for the first time gives towns a platform to showcase their High Streets and independent shopkeepers a simple, affordable and effective chance to sell their products online while driving footfall into their stores.
 
The MyHigh.St website has been designed to allow shoppers to visit their local High Street whatever the weather, any time of the day or night, via their PC, tablet, or mobile phone. The combination of e-commerce and High Street showcase, coupled with click & collect functionality and an independent shops’ loyalty system, enables shoppers to buy online while still encouraging visits in person.

Responding to consumer concerns

At the coalition’s launch in Westminster on this week (31 October), a new report from MyHigh.St and its partners will show that a third (32%) of people do not believe that their High Street has a future, with half saying that they are not proud of their local High Street.
 
The report, entitled A Nation of Shopkeepers, also reveals that, with more people shopping online, four in 10 people are scared of losing their High Street, with the figure rising to 49% among women.
 
The findings, conducted by ICM and based on a poll of 2,000 people, also found over half of those questioned (56%) think there is not enough choice on the High Street. Four in 10 (44%) think there is a lack of originality in the products chain stores sell and a third of people (33%) believe that the staff in chain stores are often unfriendly and overcrowded on the shopfloor.

The survey also found almost a third of people (30%) said they were more likely to shop in small, independent stores in the wake of stories about large businesses avoiding paying corporation tax, while two thirds wanted a High Street with a good mix of independent and chain stores.

Levelling online playing field
 
MyHigh.St was conceived last year by Loaye Agabani, a toy shop owner from Somerset with a big vision. He saw that a network of digital High Streets, showcasing all that Britain’s shopkeepers have on offer, would deliver a compelling shopping experience and a means to attract visitors to towns. 
 
Loaye Agabani, co-founder of MyHigh.St, said: “The High Street is facing its toughest ever battle. This year has seen our town centre chains shut more than thirty shops per month as the pressure from online competitors, out-of-town shopping centres and the economic climate took its toll.”

Agabani added that independent retailers were currently holding their ground with their focus on service and product differentiation. “But we worry this is not sustainable as competition grows – we need to take these attributes and help this community thrive, not just survive,” he added.

“Our website empowers independent retailers to fight back against the rise of online shopping from faceless warehouses, showing them that the internet, when used effectively, can boost their business and get money flowing back into their tills.”

Local retail e-commerce showcase 
 
Alan Hawkins, chief executive of bira, commented: “Traditional independent shops are digging deep to hold their position with a marginal growth in numbers in the first half of this year – but we fear this is not sustainable in light of the growing challenges they face. Having a showcase to celebrate our towns as digital and real-life shopping destinations, empowering retailers to embrace e-commerce and secure their share of this growing economy, explains why 200 retailers have already signed up. This service is good for shoppers, good for retailers and good for communities.”
 
Shingo Murakami, managing director of Rakuten’s Play.com, added: “We have built a global business by harnessing the power of the internet to help smaller businesses compete and grow; while protecting their individuality and their brands. With 40,000 online retailers in Japan alone we know that this approach delivers for retailers and consumers alike. 

“We are committed as part of our growth in the UK to providing an alternative to the traditional product driven approach of the established e-commerce players and to bringing MyHigh’s independent retailers to our 16 million UK customers.”

Some 200 retailers from towns across the UK took place in the beta trial of the MyHigh platform, including those from Bristol and Bath in the Southwest, Cromer in the East, as well as towns in Norfolk, Wales, London and as far north as Cupar in Scotland.

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