Traders’ call to shoppers to visit market towns for Christmas gifts
- Credit: Sarah Lucy brown
It’s a clarion call we hear every year – but with small, independent retailers fighting increasingly tough competition from the online market and out-of-town shopping centres, never has the message been so compelling.
As Christmas fast approaches, the coming days could prove among the most critical of the year for shopkeepers across Suffolk.
Flourishing in December could assure the commercial stability of a company for the next 12 months.
The declaration of small business campaigners is unequivocal – shopping in your hometown boosts the local economy, encourages entrepreneurship and creates jobs.
From a shopper’s point of view, buying local comes with the advantages of a face-to-face transaction and the chance of finding an original or unique item for a gift.
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Shopkeepers across Suffolk will be hoping customers enjoy a merry ‘local’ Christmas this year.
Our high streets have much to offer – not least a personal service hard to replicate online and in larger out-of-town shopping centres.
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A Federation of Small Businesses report shows that for every pound spent with a small or medium-sized business (SME), 63p was circulated in the local area, compared to 40p in every pound spent with a larger business.
With Christmas now less than a week away, it’s a vital time to remind shoppers of the importance of buying locally.
Richard Harrison, chairman of the Framlingham and District Business Association, said the mood among shopkeepers in the town had, so far, been positive.
“We had our late-night shopping on December 4 and the feedback from traders on the Market Hill and around town was very good,” he said.
“In the minds of shopkeepers and the public, it kick-started the final push to Christmas.
“We get the feeling it’s going well and that the town is busy.
“We have a broad selection of independent shops, where people can find something a little different, and perhaps a more personal service than they would receive in bigger stores or on the internet.
“Members of the local community are pretty loyal to the shops, even at Christmas. Some buy online for convenience but still support local businesses and recognise the importance of loyalty.”
Research shows that spending with local businesses boosts the local economy. But consumer behaviour is still moving more towards the online market – with UK sales up 16% to £52.25bn in the last year, according to a recent independent study by the Centre for Retail Research.
As well as competition from internet-based retailers, independent shops face several challenges with the rise of out-of-town retail parks – from the cost of parking in town centres, to higher business rates and rents.
A number of councils have offered free parking for special events in the lead-up to Christmas, including Suffolk Coastal, for Woodbridge’s Mammoth Christmas Street Fair and Felixstowe’s traditional craft market and Christmas lights switch-on.
In Saxmundham, the town council funded the installation of new Christmas lights this year, at a cost of about £12,000.
Town councillor and chairman of Businesses of Saxmundham, Peter Ewart said: “A number of new shops have recently opened in town, including a hairdresser, florist and cycle shop – with more to come, apparently.
“Obviously, it can be a challenging time. A lot of visitors use Waitrose but go no further into town. We are developing ways to encourage people to use services in the town. It’s going to be gradual, but the quality of offering is ever-improving and we need to keep working on that.
“The lights switch-on was attended by more people than ever. The market hall was full of stalls that day. We want to build on that next year.
“We have a lot of experienced retailers who genuinely care about what they are selling. They are reliable, and if they haven’t got something a shopper wants, they’ll order it in.”
Halesworth Business Connections chairman Rob Roy said: “Halesworth is a good destination for independent shops. It’s very characterful, with few national chains and a fantastic range of shops, including a toy shop, deli and Café Frapa.”
Mr Roy said he hoped Waveney District Council would not go ahead with proposals to reinstate charging for the first hour of parking at the Thoroughfare – a scheme he said has increased footfall in the town.
Sara Fox, from Aldeburgh Market and the town’s business association, said: “Trade has been good. We seem to have more people coming in to do their Christmas shopping.
“Aldeburgh is a great place to shop. It has a great selection of businesses with good-quality items and a good-quality shopping experience. The mix of quality chains and local independents makes a really good offering. We’re also really lucky to have a lot of very good restaurants.”
Southwold mayor Melanie Tucker said: “There has been a steady flow of people coming into the town for their Christmas shopping. They have the opportunity to find unique gifts not available at the national chains and in city centres.
“The shops in Southwold are particularly good at offering service value to customers, who can get help choosing gifts in our many individual shops.”
The Local Values scheme was set up in May 2014 to support local businesses, shops and restaurants in and around Woodbridge.
It rewards customers with a 10% discount voucher each time they spend £20, to be redeemed next time they spend £20 in another business.
More than 40 companies have signed up to the scheme – designed to increase consumer awareness of local businesses and reward customer loyalty.
Managing director Charlie Mackinlay, who took over in July, said: “It began in Felixstowe and has now spread through Martlesham and Rendlesham to Snape.
“We have a really nice selection and variety of family-run businesses on board. Their businesses are their passion.
“The advantage of shopping locally is that you get excellent customer service.”
Local Values is currently giving away a hamper of items from all its shops. Visit localvalues.co.uk