Long-standing Kingston independent stores Natterjacks, G & E Jewellers and Regency Bookshop are well-adapted to co-existing in a market with Amazon. Hit this year with a new hurdle, the coronavirus pandemic, they have adapted with the same resilience.
Small businesses across the UK are struggling. According to data gathered in September by the Office for National Statistics, 43 per cent of businesses currently trading have seen a drop in their profits compared to this time last year.
But all three Kingston independents told the Courier that although there have been inevitable effects from a three month stop in trade and a change to the pattern of footfall in their stores, trading has been promising since reopening.
“There’s always room for improvement, but we’re steady. We’re not crying out for help just yet,” said Rowan O’Neill, a retail jeweller at G & E Jewellers.
The added effects of Amazon
The impact of the pandemic on local businesses was in the spotlight last week with the arrival of Amazon Prime Day – an annual event that offers exclusive discounts and special deals to Prime members. It is one of Amazon’s most successful shopping events. eMarketer predicted a generation of $9.91b (£7.64b) in global sales from Prime Day 2020.
Although an Amazon spokesman said that this year’s Prime Day would act as the company’s “biggest small business promotion ever”, it ignited pushback in the UK from organisations like the British Independent Retailers Association (BIRA), which called for people to boycott the event and shop on local high streets instead.
“Despite the lure of the convenience of the internet, nothing can beat the positive experience of buying from a local independent retailer; knowing that money spent in a local shop will, in turn, be spent in the local economy,” said BIRA chief executive Andrew Goodacre.
While boycotting Amazon Prime Day might be a lifeline to some independents in the UK, Natterjacks, G & E Jewellers and Regency Bookshop are firmly withstanding the distinctive challenges of 2020.
Multiple branches of support have been made available and used.
Natterjacks, G & E Jewellers and Regency Bookshop all participated in the government’s Job Retention Scheme having furloughed their eligible employees during the lockdown. G & E Jewellers successfully applied for a coronavirus Bounce Back Loan and Natterjacks’ three stores each entered a claim for government grant money.
The stores were also buoyed by the local community. The owner of clothing store Natterjacks, Andy Beagley, said that Kingston might be scoring from the stasis of workers who would usually be commuting every day to London. “These people are at home and hopefully are shopping locally,” he said.
Pat Freestone-Bayes, partner of Regency Bookshop, said that local shoppers had held off from book orders during the lockdown. She said: “When we did reopen people were very quick to come in with their orders that they had collated over the three-month lockdown and had saved them so that they could come and order their books with us to come and give us support.”
Spanning bricks and mortar and e-commerce
Although independent stores might, on first thought, be pigeonholed as exclusively bricks and mortar, they are often also online.
Natterjacks has an online store which Beagley said has been “totally inundated with online business”.
Regency Bookshop, similarly, participates in an online scheme Hive wherein a shopper can nominate a participating bookstore when they checkout with their purchase and that bookstore will, in turn, receive a commission from the transaction.
Freestone-Bayes said she felt it was important to emphasise that Amazon is not the only online option. “There is a way to support independent bookshops and small businesses if you just do a bit more searching on the internet,” she said.
Crucially, independent stores at their hearts offer something that an online supermarket like Amazon cannot replicate.
O’Neill described G & E Jewellery as having “a niche market”, offering services like repairs and engravings that cannot be done over the web. “We’re not just relying on sales,” he said.
Natterjacks are similarly not in competition with Amazon as the items they sell cannot be found on the site. Beagley explained that the brands he deals with contractually stipulate that their products, must not be resold on Amazon. “It’s not about being the cheapest price. They [his suppliers] don’t want to be discounted brands and Amazon, by its nature, is a price-based business,” he said.
Regency Bookshop highlighted the personal nature of their service as the crux of why they do not compare themselves with Amazon. Freestone-Bayes said: “We get to know our customers and offer them a tailored reading option for when they come in because they know that they can rely upon us to choose something that they will enjoy based on what they’ve enjoyed before.”