14 Oct 2020

Shop local: winning the customer voting with their wallet

Consumers are becoming more educated and are now using their purchasing power in more conscious ways. From looking for ethical, sustainable pieces to wanting to support local artisans, the power of the consumer wallet is changing the face of retail today. With the shop local trend set to stay, learning how to succeed through promoting local, sustainable products is key for many retailers. Our Shop Local Autumn Fair @ Home panel brought together retailers and makers to discuss the trend and their experience as local businesses. Our panellists included:

  • Therese Øertenblad (moderator), Founder of Small Business Collaborative
  • Samantha Gibbs, Owner and Manager at Nest
  • Georgina Fihosy, Owner of Afrotouch Designs

Summing up lockdown

Perhaps surprisingly the lockdown wasn’t all doom and gloom for our panellists, even as it presented some new and unique challenges. For both Samantha and Georgina, the experience was a unifying one, where teams and communities alike came together to support their local businesses, even if they hadn’t previously. As Samantha says, “there was a sense that we were all in this together”.

The retail experience and a new normal

As consumers regain their freedoms, people are looking to escape the house and the retail experience that local shops can offer has provided relief for many. Customers are keen to get back into shops to touch and feel products, and it’s an experience that simply can’t be replicated online. Of course, cautiousness and consciousness about the pandemic is still high, so people are more aware of where they’re spending their time and are staying closer to home which is driving footfall and new customers to their local retailers.

The role of diversity and inclusivity

In light of recent geopolitical events, a new light has been shone on issues surrounding diversity and inclusivity. Consumers have become much more aware and conscious of these issues and that does translate into the products they buy and the brands they support. For both Georgina and Samantha, the conversation is a constant and embracing diversity is the backbone of both businesses’ identity.

Based in Leicester, the UK’s most diverse city, diversity and inclusivity is a constant norm for Samantha, to the point where the conversation doesn’t even need to happen. Nest is often approached by niche local suppliers who cater to these diverse demographics meaning that the shop does not have a challenge in seeking out these products.

It’s this challenge, that so many other retailers do face, that led Georgina to start Afrotouch, which has since gone on to become the first black-owned greetings provider to be stocked in high street giant Waterstones. Georgina says, “lots of communities struggle to find culturally-representative cards. There are so many amazing creators our there and I think we need to work on ways to get them out there so that retailers know they exist”.

The conversation still has a way to go though, as many retailers think that more representative products “don’t fit” with their exisiting collections or customer base. The UK is becoming more and more diverse in its demographic and, as Samantha points out diversity has to be so inherent in what every brand or retailer offers if they are to stay relevant. It can’t be a token consideration; it has to be automatic and should reflect or cater to a portion of each demographic in the local area.

The trust factor and knowing your customer

Winning, and then retaining, the local customer ultimately comes down to trust. For Samantha, it’s about listening to what products the customer is looking for, and what they value, and then delivering on these conversations. She also points out that customer expect retailers to be genuine and honest as to why they are stocking a certain product, collection, brand or artist. Consistency plays a large part in building this trust; customers want to know what they can expect from you at all times and they will hold retailers accountable. As the pandemic through the world into a period of instability and uncertainty, this trust is more important than ever as customers look to their local retailers as safe and familiar presences in their hometowns.

Of course, knowing your customer from the outset and establishing a two-way dialogue is the best way to build credibility. For Georgina, knowing your customer comes down to asking the right questions; things like “what would make you want to buy from me?”, “what do you want to gift to other people?”. Sam adds that just being conscious of your data and sales figures will tell you more than you think if you look closely enough. However, at the end of the day, if you genuinely believe in your stock, your customers will too.

Therese points out that whilst it’s important to appeal to an audience, you’re never going to appeal to everyone. We’re all human, and whilst it can be tempting to adopt a scattergun approach, your customers will trust and appreciate you more if you treat them as individuals and take the time to get t know them. This doesn’t mean you have to know the names of everyone who walks through the door, it just means that you should narrow your approach to be really clear about who you are and who you’re talking to, making sure your customers feel heard and appreciated – and that doesn’t mean other people can’t find you on their own!

Will the shop local trend continue?

Even before the lockdown there was already a significant shift amongst consumers towards slowing down and buying products that they truly value. Since the pandemic, our lives have changed drastically and consumers day to day is much more insular than it once was. As people stay closer to home, shopping more locally will become the norm. As people view shopping, and the products they buy, from a new point of experience post-pandemic, values and mindsets are fundamentally shifting in a way that will be difficult to shift back again. Learning to connect with products and local retailers is a process many consumers are going through right now, and this isn’t set to slow down.

Hear even more from Therese, Samantha and Georgina and learn more about the shop local movement on demand.


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