Why Britain losing its local shops matters

Business news and opinion

20 February 2017

Britain has many wonderful local shops, but with 300 village stores closing each year, retailers are feeling the pinch of intense financial pressure more than ever.

And with business rate increases looming in April 2017, are yet more independent shops under threat?

AXA research from 2016* revealed that almost 8% of small shop owners surveyed expect their business to fail (compared to just 3% across other business owners). This is hardly surprising in light of our findings that the annual income for a small shop owner works out at less than minimum wage, when broken down by the average amount of hours worked.

The loss of a shop is obviously devastating for its owner. However, the closure of local shops also has a more wide-ranging impact. So why are our small independent retailers so important?

Essential for the local economy

As well as providing the shopkeeper with an income, most independent retailers have locally recruited employees – although just 9% are planning to hire staff in 2017, compared to 15% at the beginning of 2015.

The independent shop also supports the community's suppliers – in rural areas, 72% of our interviewees stock goods made by local producers. These suppliers also employ people or buy materials locally, creating a whole network of interdependent local businesses.

Customers rely on their local shops

Stocking up at the out-of-town supermarket isn't easy for everybody. A third of the independent shop owners we surveyed said their elderly customers would struggle without easily accessible local stores. For many pensioners, the local shops are about creating social capital as much as convenience – they're a friendly place where you can stop and have a chat.

And it’s not just the pensioners that benefit. Parents with young kids, fellow workers shopping in their lunch breaks and those who want to spend locally all enjoy using these shops.

It’s part of the community

In smaller towns and rural areas, the staff and customers can get to know each other, creating a level of natural personal service that national chain supermarkets often struggle to replicate.

Local shops also work towards common goals that are beneficial for everyone. 28% of the retailers we spoke with invest their profits into improving their local area through action groups. The shop is definitely at the heart of the community – with the community’s interests at heart.

Shops add to the area’s character

A bustling town or village centre with an array of small shops is a quintessentially British image. Eight of out ten of the shopkeepers we interviewed said they invest in making sure their premises reflect the local character. This often involves going the extra mile to ensure their shopfronts look the part and contribute towards tourist appeal – another vital industry.

The shop is part of the heritage of its town or village. They may stock products synonymous with the area: cheese in Wensleydale, pasties in Cornwall. Sometimes, you come across a butcher's or newsagent's that’s been run by the same family for generations. Losing that would mean the demise of years of expertise and service.

Darrell Sansom, Managing Director at AXA Business Insurance comments: "Each time a local shop, hairdresser or pub shuts down, local people lose another piece of their heritage and community life."

So let’s all show our appreciation for Britain’s wonderful independent retailers, and support our hardworking and well-meaning local shops!

*AXA surveys its small shop customers three times a year. Data is taken from identical surveys conducted at the end of 2015 and in September 2016.