As headlines continue to pile up about dying town centres, experts repeatedly say businesses need to offer experience to compete with online… But what does that actually mean in real terms? Experience has always been a part of the best small shops and businesses. Big businesses have failed to emulate it, because at larger scale, it is difficult to provide personalisation and interaction. The problem is that by continually talking about experience – such as gin bars in clothes shops, mood lighting in changing rooms, dance events etc., small businesses may struggle to see how they can provide such things on top of what they are doing already. In many cases I don’t think they need to, I just think we need to get better at communicating the value of experiences small businesses are providing in any case.
When I moved to Saltaire, visiting local shops was the experience. It still is. In these small shops, I can have a conversation, I get help choosing items and advice about the products. There is no need for the shopkeepers to provide any more than that. I often meet someone I know in a shop too – it feels like a social event. There is no need for an event to happen, no one needs to dance or burst into song, the experience of real shopping in a small businesses is more than enough. And increasingly unique in a seamless world of online, vacuum packaging and home delivery.
Shops are being told repeatedly to offer experience – a vague term and more often one that in small businesses turns into ‘coffee’, ‘beauty’ or ‘events’. The implication is that without these experiences, these small shops are just like shopping online. They are not. Shopping local is an experience – a personal and social experience that is not about being processed through a system of algorithms and being reduced from human to data.
Haven’t we got enough examples of losing these valuable shop local experiences, to start to change what we are doing when we click on another home delivery?
Whilst large businesses could learn a lot from both online giants and small businesses, we should appreciate that local shop owners work ten times as hard and perhaps don’t need to think they need to sing and dance for us as well. Rather than impose an idea of experience creation on small businesses, perhaps we need to do more to promote the existing experiences they offer. Without that promotion, small businesses may leave our towns- changing our mixed ecosystem of retail and service offerings to one that, if not dead, is almost entirely service-led. We will miss the experience of shopping local if we lose the other parts of retail that make up our towns and our local economies, that support the makers, the producers and the entrepreneurs – our markets and our local shops give us experiences – that is why ‘an array of independent shops’ is often placed at the heart of promotional literature for visitors.
It isn’t lack of experience that is hurting small businesses on the high street, it is a failure to recognise the value of the experience we have and what we risk losing.
As a kid I grew up dying for school to finish, so I could go to Mr Lee’s sweet shop. His knowledge and range of sweets from cola cubes to pepper sweets was legendary. Older now, I get less sweets but look forward to buying foods from my local greengrocer, fishmonger and butchers and gifts from our local makers – just minutes down the street. I love browsing and the everyday shopping I can get simply by taking a walk. Every time I am in a shop, chatting with the owners, watching them prepare items or share their passion for the products they have chosen to sell – I realise this IS experience. It is unique, tangible and interactive.
It isn’t lack of experience that is hurting small businesses on the high street, it is a failure to recognise the value of the experience we have and what we risk losing. Haven’t we got enough examples of losing these valuable shop local experiences, to start to change what we are doing when we click on another home delivery?
At ShopAppy.com we are committed to doing everything we can to help small businesses – it starts with making it easier for people to see what it on their high streets online. It starts with enabling people to book experiences as well as buy and browse products. It starts with creating a unified shop window as a front against the home delivery mindset our local shops are facing and making it easier for customers to see what local businesses offer. It starts with collaborating to be the change we want to see. By making small changes in our behaviours we can create happy people and happy places, not to mention a happier planet. These small changes start with us all valuing and making the most of the experience that already exists. To get involved Join us or get in touch with me firstname.lastname@example.org