Small Business Saturday (1 December 2018) and Responsible Consumption: Independent Retailers and the Revival of the British High Street

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I have just begun to realise that it is that time of year. Conifer trees, real and artificial, have begun to sprout up from the pavements and in shops and offices and additional twinkling lights have been installed to illuminate shopping streets and retail premises. There are many ways of reading these signs – as the start of one of the most important periods in the financial year or as the onset of Advent and the festival of Christmas.

There are many ways of experiencing Advent and Christmas. As a period of preparation and reflection or as a time of frantic shopping all targeted at a single day.  Today, there are 25 shopping days left to Christmas. How exciting and how appalling? This is a period of peak waste, of peak plastic, of peak energy consumption and of peak disposable fast fashion. Factories, supply chains and retailers have been co-ordinated over the last six months to bring a vast array of consumer products to the UK.

It is worth noting that Advent and Christmas does not have to involve excessive consumer consumption. Nevertheless, there is a paradox here. Every act of consumption is an act of job retention or creation. For some firms, their profitability and survival hinge on Christmas. As responsible consumers, we have choices to make. One choice is to support our local independent retailers. The last decade has seen an on-going process of retailing restructuring. Innovations in online retailing, combined with the recent business rates review and the increase in the National Living Wage, have undermined the ability of many retailers to cover their costs. The financial press has been filled with stories of the collapse of famous retail brands, but small local independent retailers must not be forgotten.

This Saturday, December 1, is Small Business Saturday UK. This grassroots, non-commercial movement is intended to highlight the 5.7 million small businesses that are distributed across the UK. This day is meant to be a celebration of small business success and to encourage consumers to ‘shop local’ and to support small businesses in their communities. This initiative is intended to encourage consumers to support all types of small businesses, online, in offices and in stores. Many small businesses take part in this day by hosting events and offering discounts. There are 50 small businesses located in Birmingham participating in this celebration of local business this year. Last year, over £750m was spent in small independent business on Small Business Saturday.

On Saturday, one way of celebrating the start of Advent, or the December shopping frenzy, is to go online to search for local shops that are participating in this celebration of local business. The high street as we know is being transformed as larger national and international retailers retreat to online platforms or close. The future of the British high street involves two linked strategies. First, are the activities of small independent retailers who provide very distinctive products and services. These can range from bespoke and hand-made items to products produced by companies not stocked by the mainstream retailers. Second, is the transformation of the high street from a place for purchasing goods to one in which the emphasis is placed on the creation and consumption of experiences.

During the run-up to Christmas, we should all try to remember the importance of supporting this country’s small independent retailers. This will provide opportunities to purchase unusual gifts, but at the same supporting local jobs and local firms. It is these small firms that are the future of our high streets. It is these firms that have a special relationship or attachment to the places in which they are doing business. One way of shopping responsibly for Christmas is to spread purchases around so that you support local small firms, the big chains and the online retailers.

This blog was written by John Bryson, Professor of Enterprise and Economic Geography, City-REDI, University of Birmingham.  

The views expressed in this analysis post are those of the authors and not necessarily those of City-REDI or the University of Birmingham.

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Author: John Bryson

Professor of Enterprise and Competitiveness, City-Region Economic Development Institute, Birmingham Business School, The University of Birmingham, UK

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