Apparently there are rumblings amongst the Great British shoppers. After many years of incredible growth and expansion, it would appear that supermarkets are beginning to fall from our favour.

The well publicised Mary Portas scheme to save the high street certainly tell us a story of British high streets on the demise – with supermarkets taking the lion’s share of local expenditure.

Yet despite awareness amongst UK shoppers concerning the obvious impact the supermarket prevalence has had – we continue to fill our baskets with a dazzling array of cost effective convenience.

An article published in the Telegraph earlier this year highlighted this with a story from the town of Sherborne in Dorset. Residents have been very vocal in their opinions of Tesco and have been protesting against Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, with more than 90% of the town signing a petition against plans to open up a new store. Shopkeepers also closed their stores, en masse, to illustrate what the town could look like should if Tesco’s plans were successful.

With perhaps a touch of irony however, two of the the Mary Portas pilot towns are revealed to have accepted funding from the supermarket chain, albeit for things such as street improvements, footfall monitoring and branded shopping bags!

However, I am not here to discuss the sentiments or morals of accepting funding for town improvements. The reality, is that there is an anti-supermarket sentiment which many of us feel.

Figures from Kantor Worldpanel tell us that pretty much every single one of us have visited one of the 9 major supermarket chains, at some point in the last month. So despite the anti supermarket rhetoric, it would seem all of us are guilty in some way of exacerbating the problem.

Whether we like it or not – supermarkets provide us with a solution for modern day life.

Of course we might hold onto an ideological fantasy where all of our shopping is done through local independent stores and farmer’s markets on a bright and breezy summer days. But when it is 10.00pm, wind and rain howling around your rosy cheeks and you haven’t eaten since lunchtime – we all know where we are heading.

The reality is that supermarkets offer us an abundance of choice. They tend to be located in convenient locations (apart from perhaps the giant out-of-town behemoths) and if they are not open 24 hours, they tend to be open until 11pm in most cases.

Are they lower in price? Generally, yes. But not always.

Many independent retailers do offer competitive pricing. But this only applies to the narrow selection of goods they sell. A fruit and veg stall may offer cheaper vegetables, but you will likely need to then look elsewhere for domestic cleaning products or frozen sausages.

Supermarkets are of course king of the deals. Many of which are so alluring that the temptation is to stock up while the offer remains (I personally have a friend whose garage is stacked high with deals he could never refuse)

But this does not really help the troubled high street and the high street is still an integral part of British society and local communities. We need small, independent retailers because they offer us something the supermarkets will never be able to.

Small retailers are often the true champions of innovation and entrepreneurship. They take risks that the multinationals will not.

I read an article recently where the writer quipped something along the lines of:real  “supermarkets are not interested in stocking a brand unless it is a £50m brand”.

Whilst I am sure this isn’t the real case – the reality is that many successful brands have come from small and humble beginnings before they achieved the success they enjoy today. Without an offline platform, entrepreneurs will be limited to being online entities only and the winners will be those who can market themselves as such.

So what is it that consumers want? If supermarkets suddenly packed up and shut up shop, the country would likely be in a state of collapse and panic!

In the UK we spend over £100bn each year at supermarkets. By my reckoning that is around £30-£40 p/w for every man woman and child.

And of course grocery shopping via the internet is the huge growth area for UK consumers as we readily adopt the click and checkout culture. With grocery retailers now offering simple, efficient grocery shopping delivered to your door, we don’t even need to leave our homes. Even Amazon are getting in on the act!

So whilst we may like to moan and complain about the dire state of the UK high street, it has taken us a long while to reach this point and it would probably take much longer to reverse this evolutionary trajectory of retail and involve giving up many of our comforts in the process.

We have blogged before about the state of British high streets. Our opinions still stand. Brand experience, live marketing, showcasing and showrooming are many ways we could inject more fun, theatre and entertainment into a mundane shopping experience. Empty shop units could easily become places of unique interest where brands could develop better face to face relationships with their fans.

Local councils need to work together with small businesses and offer relief on things such business rates, to give SME’s and startups a chance to build a solid business base

Simply put, high streets need an increase in footfall if they are to lure back entrepreneurial retailers. A dead high street with empty shop units, sky high rents and even higher business rates is just never going be an attractive option for any type of business.

Real change has to happen if we are to have any chance of reversing the decline. Small businesses need more than just an injection of confidence – they need re-assurance that they have support from the authorities and landlords, in it for the long haul.

Meanwhile, no matter what we feel about UK Supermarkets, shoppers need to commit to boycotting once and for all if they really want to affect change. If not, they might as well continue fill their shopping trollies high with hypocritical pie.


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