Shop Local – could it be easier?

shop local montage

Shop Local – could it be easier?

With Christmas just literally a few days away, there have been many initiatives, campaigns and tactics used to drive people to shop local, but could it be easier? Especially now, as small businesses are more impacted by the new variant which is deterring people from visiting high streets.

During the first lockdown I bought and organised various gifts online, from delivery of afternoon tea to a case of beer and the more obvious, flowers. Although the offer of local shopping online was brilliant, there were challenges with contacting some businesses and trying to buy from them, particularly going via Facebook messenger and paying by bank transfer.

With hospitality bearing the brunt of the current Covid-Omicron situation, it’s been incredibly frustrating to be unable to support them by buying vouchers. I’m hoping my experience was the exception, given I’ve seen plenty of mentions on Twitter about customers dropping by and buying vouchers.

It’s not that I didn’t try…. email, website forms, social media and phone calls all used to make contact, messages left etc. When there was a response, I was asked to call in and collect them as they couldn’t be posted (I’m not local to the restaurants) and that someone would call me back – nobody did – with their bank details as card payments weren’t possible and at that point it just became too hard!

Experiences such as making things and tours seem to be easier to book for now or in the future, often with downloadable vouchers.
When local shopping is good, it can be a lovely experience.

I recently ordered some small items from a local maker, who saw where I lived and suggested I knock on the shop door and collect the gift rather than them posting it to me.

Another similar experience I encountered, is when a local café´s card machine was down and they said I could still order and drop the money in another day, resulting in me spending more than I would have done if they had insisted on cash there and then.

Shopping locally works brilliantly on the whole, when it’s in real life. I’ve been to great markets, Christmas shopping events and pop-ups in London, Liverpool and Bristol lately and it’s lovely to be talk about the products and find out more about the business but it still seems to be falling over when the experience moves online.

While I’m confident and capable shopping online, others might not be. If it’s too hard, many people will default to Amazon or a big-name retailer (there’s plenty of things they are good at, and it’s not a case of ‘shop indie or nowhere’) and the bank transfer will make customers nervous (and little need for it these days) and calling in isn’t always convenient.

But what can local businesses do to help improve the shopping experience? If you’re a council with Welcome Back funding to spend, how can you further support high streets and businesses?

Here are some top tips for businesses or those supporting them:

  • Review and update Google Business opening hours (lots of businesses haven´t updated their Christmas and New Year opening hours and still say delivery or takeaway only, temporarily closed or hours that have no bearing on reality)
  • Check where web forms, emails and phone numbers route to – can they be accessed by more than one person? This also applies to social channels – who is responding to DMs/messages/comments?
  • Have a digital presence (even if that’s just a landing page that points off to social channels)
  • Can you gift vouchers be available for goods or services? If yes, consider how they will be offered – downloadable, on request, payment methods etc
  • Check local and national online platforms. Many are low cost and may be an alternative to creating a website

Christmas is fast approaching, and businesses need to make it as easy as possible for customers to shop with them…. it’s not too late (yet!) and there’s always next year!