In recent years, the internet has received the brunt of the blame for distracting consumers from local retailers. With a wealth of choice and variety at the fingertips of every shopper who owns a smartphone or computer, online marketing certainly has its advantages over the local high street – and consumers know it, with the number of annual sales made via the internet rapidly increasing year on year.
However, while the high street warriors of the country such as Mary Portas are quick to point the finger at technological advancements to explain the demise of local trading, many seem to forget that there was a previous culprit in the time before Amazon and eBay sprung into being. This, of course, was the supermarket – a rival many small retailers still regard as their main competition when it comes to attracting customers.
Now, retailers in the Oxfordshire town of Headington have voiced their concerns over plans for not one but three of Britain’s largest supermarket chains to set up shop in close proximity to the area’s largest retail zone. Morrisons has already confirmed it will be redeveloping the site on which Blockbuster originally sat, while Tesco and Sainsbury’s are presently in discussions regarding the possibility of acquiring commercial space on London Road.
As the street also plays host to both Waitrose and the Co-op, smaller retailers are unsurprisingly worried that they will be crowded out of the marketplace altogether.
Owner of Crown News, Mukesh Amin, said; “I am worried about what will happen.
“I will probably have to close – I run a newsagents and the new shops will all sell papers.”
Yet it is not simply the fact that supermarkets contain the majority of consumer needs under one roof that is playing on the minds of local store owners. As more big businesses move into the area, drawn by the promise of crowds frequenting the new supermarkets, small retailers may find themselves simply unable to keep up with the costs of running their commercial property.
As florist Paul Birtles, of The Garden, points out; “I don’t worry about the new stores interfering with our trade because I think we’re very good at what we do, but I would worry about the impact on rent if they move in.
“I fear we will see a similar thing to what happened in [nearby town] Summertown – as soon as M&S moved in, the rents went up the same day.”
The influx of supermarkets across the UK – in particular, the spread of “Tesco Extra” stores – are very much feared by small retailers who specialise in particular products rather than general grocery stocks. Butchers, bakers and greengrocers, for example, could be particularly hit by multiple store openings on London Road.
With consumer behaviour and retailing in general going through a transitional period, it is rather difficult to predict the future for the high street in general. However, it is safe to say that the arrival of three further supermarkets on London Road is unlikely to yield positive results for Headington’s small businesses.
Do you think online retailing or supermarket expansion is the greater threat to small independent retailers on the high street?
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