Colin Borland: Now more than ever, the High Street needs you

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It is a wonderful day today. If the rumors are accurate, those of us who have lived for the past few weeks under level four restrictions may finally get our layoff date.

The eyes of thousands of companies will be on the announcement by the First Minister, anticipating that she will confirm a downgrade to at least level three.

Not that level three is, of course, a land of milk and honey, but progression is improvement. And at least some of us who live in those places will be able to get out and do some Christmas shopping physically.

But what kind of high street is the First Minister going to set us free?

More shops will probably be there. The most dramatic retail failure in recent memory was the announcement by Debenhams last week – accelerated, but possibly not triggered by the pandemic. But no less tragic is the closure of small, independent vendors who have literally run out of the streets.

A loss of amenity, a loss of expertise, a loss of personal service on the high street reflects any single closure. Each one decreases the preference of customers and the capacity for capital to circulate in the local economy. And so each takes a community a little closer to the bare minimum of economic activity that you no longer have a name-worthy local economy underneath.

Fortunately, ideas on what our main streets and communities need to reverse this pattern are not missing. It has long been argued that by diversifying into leisure and other services, they need to spread their risk, they need right-sized commercial units, they need to be available, they need to be safe.

All that is completely real. But consumers and their cash are what your shopping street really needs now. So for the moment, let’s step off the beaten path of what governments can do – we all know the reasons – and think about what effect we can have as customers.

Traditionally, the holiday season is a time when we remind people of the importance of local shopping and inspire them to think about where their hard-earned money is being spent.

This is not for sentimental purposes, but because there’s a lot of pounds at stake for customers. Last year, the Centre for Retail Research published the U.K. Christmas investment in November and December, described as six weeks, is £ 78.5 billion. If we could flush even a fraction of that colossal amount into the coffers of small companies, imagine the difference we could bring to our businesses, economies and societies.

We’re not just talking, of course, about retail or on-site spending. A new or updated online offering has been used by many small firms to remain alive – which means that this year there are more options than ever before. All expenditure on small businesses is important. But if we can get to the city, we’re going to increase foot traffic for all the other companies in the area.

The FSB has launched a renewed campaign to encourage the public to shop and celebrate their local and small businesses in order to provide a Christmas boost to those who have had the worst year ever.

Shoppers can post images of their Christmas purchases using the hashtag #shopherethisChristmas, in addition to being smart about their purchasing power. The hashtag can also be used by retailers to promote their products to a broader audience. Customers may leave reviews of their favorite shops online, showcasing what makes them special.

Unfortunately, reopening more retail stores would not necessarily bring individuals into the Christmas spirit in other sectors, which are also under extreme restrictions. But every ounce of economic activity we can support and get maximum value out of today makes it easier to rebuild the entire economy tomorrow.

Colin Borland is director for the devolved nations at the Federation of Small Businesses

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