Does Chuka Umunna have more plans for indie retailers besides aping US-style one day bonanza?
The shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna recently suggested
that Britain should follow an initiative from the United States in
which shoppers are encouraged to shop at independent stores on a
busy shopping Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
Obama tweets: Small Business Saturday US was a big hit on social
media in 2012
Called 'Small Business Saturday', the initiative has enjoyed
year-on-year success in the US. Last year, an estimated 67% of
consumers were aware of the event and small businesses generated
$5.5 billion in sales on the day. This success was largely driven
by the marketing weight offered by American Express, the
initiative's sponsor, while the campaign also took off on social
media and was backed by celebrities and prominent public figures.
Barack Obama gave the publicity push a big boost by visiting his
local bookshop and tweeting about it.
Help on its way?
It's good to know that our politicians are engaging with the
monumental challenge faced by independent retailers in an era of
online shopping and dominance from national chains - and that they
are looking for ways to help. However, I'm sure I'm not the only
one who has a few reservations about Umanna's suggested course of
The first of these is that Umanna said he had already got the
ball rolling on the scheme by writing to American Express to ask if
they could bring the initiative to the UK. Did he do this because
Amex owns the initiative's intellectual property, or because he
believes the scheme would be a non-starter without corporate
Similar initiatives are already up and running in the UK - and
the backing of a prominent politician or celebrity could be just
the thing they need to give their schemes a kick-start
If it's the latter, he may have a point. In addition to the
marketing weight offered by the credit card giant, one caveat to
the success of the scheme across the pond is that Amex offered a
$25 rebate to all their cardholders who shopped on Small Business
Saturday - so perhaps shoppers were incentivised by this rather
than any altruistic concerns. Even so, would Amex be an ideal
sponsor in the UK, where other credit cards are used much more
If it's an IP issue, could we get round this by calling the
initiative something else? Or giving it a slightly different
I should point out here that similar initiatives are already up
and running in the UK - and the backing of a prominent politician
or celebrity could be just the thing they need to give their
schemes a kick-start. For example, retail expert Clare Rayner
'Independent Retail Month' in July last year and followed it up
with a festive campaign called 'Celebrate an Independent
Christmas.' Rayner is continuing the theme with a similar push for
The plight of independents is also consistently supported by the
Rockers', an organisation formed in January 2012 that advocates
the work of microbusinesses. Like Rayner, the Rockers support the
idea of encouraging consumers to commit to spending a set
percentage of their shopping money at indies instead of doing so
online or at multiples. This kind of advocacy aims to cultivate
behavioural change in consumers that has the potential to bring
about long-term stability for independent shops.
A thriving local economy brings benefits such as higher house
prices, consumers are reminded, while independent retailers
themselves are encouraged to practice what they preach and spend
their money in other local stores.
What a difference a day makes
Maybe one day in the limelight is not enough to turn the tide
for independents. A Small Business Saturday may give them a boost
at a time of year when spending is high and competition is fierce,
but this shouldn't excuse politicians from addressing the factors
that have created the difficulties they face in the first
The rise of internet shopping is obviously a major reason why
independents are struggling, but there are many other contributing
factors. These include a perceived disproportion between revenue
generated and business rates charged, councils putting off shoppers
by charging for car parking in local shopping areas, multiples
being able to charge rock bottom prices for certain products that
they can use as loss leaders, and regular-as-clockwork year-on-year
increases in major overheads such as gas and electricity.
Government policy can influence these factors and many more - so
while politicians are hatching slick, PR-friendly plans to help
independent retail, we mustn't let them forget that there are much
bigger fish to fry in the sector.
you think of Chuka Umunna's suggestion of a 'Small Business
Saturday'? Let us know in the comments section below.
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