Independent’s Day….

Nothing is quite what it seems. Some may think it is a Google world view spaceship, imaging Europe. Maybe Amazon’s latest space based distribution centre . Poetic licence dictates it’s an alien craft coming to seek retribution on multiple retailers and free the Independent (retailer, not the newspaper, albeit it only existing in an online format).

It is difficult to ascertain what percentage of the entire retail market is held by independents. Within the food market , according to Kantar World Panel, it is less than 2%. Yet it is estimated that for every £100 spent  with independents , between £50-£70 is recirculated within the local economy. For every £100 spent with multiples this drops to less than £5.

I don’t dislike multiples, some are really good at what they do- this varies from Waitrose types through to IKEA. Some enable the consumer to shop in an effective economic manner – the good discount operations ,and there those that offer  unique and interesting product such as Tiger(Danish), Zara(Spanish) Hema(Dutch) and Maplins to name but a few. But it  is the good independent that differentiates our town centres and offers product and service that cannot be matched by multiples and online . Yet there is no ‘divine’ right for  independent retailers to exist. There are  rubbish retailers, indeed there are loads of them, and just because they exist doesn’t mean there is an obligation to shop in them. To survive they have to be good and they have to go the extra mile. 

According to ‘This is Money’, a financial website, in 2015 , there were only 117 more shops opening than closing as against a figure in 2010 of 4000 (which is somewhat surprising). Yet there are still over 270,000 small independent operations of all types within the U.K.

There is much stacked against the retailer, in terms of rents, minimum wages, rates, errant local authorities and town planners but there are some towns waking up to reality and working with the good independent. Nottingham has the “Nottingham Business improvement District’ a non profit making organisation with 850 members promoting independent businesses in the city. A couple of weeks ago they had an ‘independent shopping day ‘ which by all accounts was very successful . Events are being organised through to October. Many other towns, such as Bath have a natural affinity with good independents. According to the web site, the town with the highest number of independents is Sparkhill(edge of Birmingham) accounting for 95% of the outlets(bit of a surprise there). The very same web site suggests it is not quite all gloom and doom for the independent…

The data from the Local Data Company and the British Independent Retailers Association shows that indies saw a increase of +4 shops, a reversal from the net decline of 194 shops during the same period last year. A net growth of 200 units was one of the main drivers in growth.

A total of 31,216 independents either opened (15,610) or closed (15,606). In 2015 the figures were 16,534 and 16,728 respectively.

In contrast, chain retailers declined by 1.02% in the first six months of 2016, compared to 0.44% in 2015.

There are, of course, many towns that are  doing nothing in support of the independent, and it is very evident when you are in one . You get the feeling that a local authority has taken the view that as long as there is a Tesco, or Asda, a discount operator, coffee shop , couple of betting shops, a Boots or Lloyds , and WH Smith or McColls and if you are lucky a bank , the locals will be happy. They are not, and  nor should the local authorities be. Particularly if the stats concerning the re-circulation of cash independent vs multiple.

I beleive the multiple needs the independent and whilst the latter may disagree, the reverse is also true. It is a symbiotic relationship. The independent needs the numbers a multiple attracts. The latter needs the former, without which the shopping experience would become truly dull. But the relationship only prospers if there is local support both from councils and communities.

The consequences are that the ‘High Street’ would continue to decline to a degree that there would be no winners , apart from some online operators. It may seem a bit over the top but the reality is without healthy retail environments, suppliers(big or small), retailers(multiple or independent), consumers, local authorities, local communities and society in general would suffer. Says who and why ? Well apart fromme , I don’t know . However, logic dictates that if the bricks and mortar aspect to retailing continues to diminish ,jobs, town centres, sections of communities, and local finances will inevitably decline. Both big and small have to be creative,professional and entrepreneurial and to fully  understand that  to exist and prosper , is not a right, it has to  be earnt.

The Perfect Storm, or at very least a very big one ….

It is nothing to do with Brexit, it is not Trump, North Korea or banking (although three major banks in Europe have collapsed in the last couple of weeks), it is to do with retailing .

The big players in retailing are diversifying at a rapid rate. Amazon, the devil incarnate, not only started opening books shops they have just purchased a grocery chain (Whole Foods -mainly USA, but does have stores in the U.K.). Tesco seeking to move into wholesaling (Bookers), Sainsbury’s trying to buy NISA , a buying group of independents. Ocado, the giant UK online food operation is seeking to replicate its model throughout Europe.Major car brands opening car showrooms in shopping centres. Online operations  are going forwards and backwards, and the end consumer is undergoing a complete psychological restructuring . The electrification of cars will restructure the retail landscape in ways that have yet to be explained (come back to that in a minute).Not least, the latest approaching whirlwinds, Big Data and AI. These two alone will be more than capable of forming their own retail hurricanes.

Big data, is what is says it is :

extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

It is said that 90 % of data available to mankind was created within the last two years. Only the biggest have the resources to handle this data and what they do with this is anybody’s guess. Lucifer (aka Amazon) offers some pointers. Currently they are experimenting with Amazon Go, a completely ’tillless’ experience. You walk in, take what you want , walk out entirely till free. It is a retail ‘holy grail’. Initially, it ain’t bad for the consumer. If there is anything to ruin what enjoyment , you may or may not, experience shopping , it is soon ruined by the queue at the checkout .To reach this stage , Lucifer has had to absorb, crunch , diagnose , and utilise big data. Even  they (or rather he, she or it, whatever Lucifer is) find that not all is hunky dory. Yet as sure as Lucifer sells books, it will happen. 

Electric cars, now there is something I don’t think has been thought through , the consequences that is. I am not against , and would be quite happy,if the price dropped and the charge lasted 500+ miles, to buy one. Petrol forecourts are a reducing breed anyway, but the petrol need bit will disappear entirely . In its place will be re-charging centres, presumably? However, instead of a 5 minute fill and maybe a packet of crisps, inordinately expensive packet of liquorice allsorts , and an amazingly low priced Apple Watch ‘look a likey’ guaranteed for over 72 hours, the car occupants will be there for at least 30 mins. So what’s to do ? More cafés, a small shopping mall, profits will need to be made.  The oil companies will have to completely overall their business models of retail forecourts, which, I suggest, will have their own impact of other retail concepts.

Artificial Intelligence, is with us , or very nearly , in the form of driverless cars. It is used every day by Apple, with Siri, or Microsoft with Cortana. Google search is driven by AI. Currently, we are in a place in time when we can talk to a small device in our kitchen and order a toilet roll. This can only be the beginning. As to what that ‘beginning ‘ maybe, is very unclear . What is clear is that the impact on retailing will be of ‘storm force’ proportions. 

Storms create problems but they also create opportunities and whether you are supplier, retailer or even consumer, we have to mitigate the problems and seek the opportunities. Sounds so easy when you write it.