Whilst driving around the UK this month looking at stores and meeting with companies operating in the retail technology sector, I heard a news story which claimed that 15 independent stores a day were now closing in the UK due to the rise of online retailing.
I have to say the UK high street, and many of the town centre pedestrian shopping zones, are markedly run down since my past visit to the UK. There is still growth in out of town and edge of town strip and covered malls and new freestanding retail development by the discount grocers ALDI and LIDL, but the small end of town is hurting.
In fact, the UK high street has become the domain of charity shops. I’d read about it, but seeing just how many stores are charity stores first hand was a huge shock. A friend of mine is in HR for one of these small regional charities. It’s grown over 10 years to 40 stores and has almost 400 employees and volunteers working in its retail operations.
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I also spent part of my time with a retired retailer who built and ran their own large toy retailing company many years ago, and then worked in retail for another major retailer. She loves retail. Just to keep her hand in, and mind and body active, she has set up a simple eBay store selling core clothing items aimed at other retirees. It’s been a success with stay-at-home older shoppers in the regions, happy not to drive 30 minutes and park. They have become the main shopper base. My gut feel is that this eBay store will morph into a dedicated online site over the coming three years and reach a sales level of close to $300,000 a year. All from home.
We’ve talked for almost a decade about the rise of online retailing, usually focused on the growth of new, big, global challenger brands like eBay, Amazon and now Alibaba. We’ve also talked about the move into online by established retailers becoming major omni-channel retailers. And now, as all of this technology becomes easy and “normal”, we have new, small, self-employed online retailers starting up, and earning a good living.
My friend is not your typical online entrepreneur. She’s not a Ruslan Kogan; she’s a retired 70-year-old who loved working in retail. And she continues to love retail from her small, home-run online store.
As one independent high street store closes, another independent online store opens.
Kevin Moore is a retail expert and the chairman of Crossmark Asia Pacific Holdings.