Independent retailers have long been facing tough challenges, not least of which the steady demise of the high street. But the coronavirus pandemic could be in danger of fast tracking this demise. Whilst Covid -19 has left no sector untouched, its impact on the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors is palpable, with many permanent closures expected - irrespective of size and scale.
Despite the challenges, independent retailers remain an important and integral part of our communities. Arguably more so than ever before. Many agree that the Government’s financial rescue plan was better than expected and Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association, described a ‘positive mood’ towards the initiatives. However, he was clear that further public announcements that omit to share details of a robust action plan behind them could lead to more frustrations. In simple terms, the Government are talking the talk, but how quickly can we walk the walk? The funds are urgently needed. In Andrew’s view, ‘the devil is in the detail’.
There is also a strong sense of fear that big banks may be cautious when it comes to extending loans to an already ‘delicate and fragile’ part of the retail sector. Ensuring banks do their bit will be key.
Andrew also believes that, whilst the support of the Government will allow for the survival of many BIRA members, the stark reality is that a significant number will not weather the storm. He expressed that the Government could do more by sending a strong message encouraging the public ‘to buy little, buy regular and buy local’ – ensuring the spread of cash across the retail community.
The question as to whether the financial package will be enough is a tough one. And, as with most things…only time will tell. What is clear is, when the pandemic passes, retail will look and feel very different. Yes, online will continue to grow but the period of isolation that we all face will induce a renewed appreciation and demand for in-store face-to-face experiences.