THERE are some retail traditions America can keep. I wouldn’t care if we never had to endure Black Friday again. The scenes of chaos in British stores as shoppers scrapped over cheap tellies were unedifying.
Bargain-hunting? No-one likes a bargain more than me, but I couldn’t believe the greed – and the naivety. Didn’t these desperate shoppers realise that the only individuals to benefit from this exercise in crass consumerism were the retailers, on a mission to offload as much stock as possible to bump up their pre-Christmas profits?
Now those greedy “bargain-hunters” are reported to be struggling to offload their booty on eBay. Good. It serves them right.
However, this Saturday I will be welcoming another American retail tradition with open arms. Small Business Saturday was invented in the US in 2010 by American Express to offer a national focus for independent retailers and entrepreneurs. That it is sponsored by a credit card company is an irony. Clearly, it was conjured up not just for altruistic reasons, but as a PR exercise to help assuage the guilt of “holiday shopping”. That’s American self-flagellation for you.
However, if it encourages more people to spend their money locally and directly instead of handing it over to large multi-national corporations, I’m all for it.
Not that I need an excuse to support my local traders. I go out of my way to do it every week – sometimes literally. It’s off to the market garden for the sacks of potatoes, down to the butchers in the village for the sausages, burgers and meat pies.
When I have to go to the supermarket, I try and use the small branch of Asda nearby rather than endure the hell that is the superstore several miles away.
I must admit that I gave three silent cheers when I heard that Sainsbury’s had put plans to open a huge new store in Barnsley on hold.
The last thing a small, struggling town like mine needs is yet another supermarket, especially one situated outside of a town centre undergoing a major redevelopment. It would be entirely counter-productive to pull trade away from the market and the existing shops and services. Once shoppers are lured away it is nigh on impossible to persuade them back.
That said, I am aware that it takes effort and imagination to use small retailers effectively. We all like the idea, but how many of us are really prepared to put the effort in? We’ve fallen into lazy habits. We jump in the car and drive to the out-of-town shopping mall because it’s the easiest option. We do all our food shopping online because we perceive that we haven’t got the spare time to go out and choose it ourselves.
Busy lives, lack of time, children demanding the latest this and the latest that… I’ve heard all the excuses and probably used a few in my time too.
As Black Friday proved, we’re a selfish bunch. Let’s ask the burning question then. When it comes to shopping independently and supporting local businesses, what’s in it for me?
In an ideal world, we would all like to see our town centres thriving and our High Streets lined with butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. Yet all too often people are too worried to even bother opening the door.
Perhaps we wrongly assume that small shop equals expensive shop, but we forget that the beauty of shopping small means that we can benefit from the personal touch. Make a friend of an independent retailer, and you never know when it might do you a favour.
I’ll give you an example. I use a small local printing company for all my business stationery. When my parents renewed their wedding vows and realised two days before the ceremony that they had forgotten to sort out their order of service sheets, who did we call? No time to do it online. No point asking a big chain of printers – the job was too small. Instead, we rang my friends at the little firm and they fell over themselves to oblige, turning the job round beautifully and in less than 48 hours.
I could cite you endless examples; the pie stall that does me a discount on bulk buys, the florist who knows that I recommend her to everyone so knocks me a few pounds off the price of an order, the lady at the haberdasher’s who will go the extra mile to track down the exact colour of sequins for my daughter’s dancing costumes.
I just know that I wouldn’t get that level of service anywhere else. Call me old-fashioned, but there is something satisfying about shopping like this. And somehow, it seems to take the sting out of parting with your cash.
Remember then, our small businesses are for life, not just for Christmas. If we reminded ourselves of that every week, we wouldn’t have to rely on the Americans to do it for us.