Bricks and mortar stores aren’t relics – they are Community Engines

Gary Trickett
Chairman, National Association of Health Stores

From the very start of the pandemic and lockdown #1, our industry’s independent retailers have had to constantly adapt, often with little time to respond.

From demand fluctuations (remember flour, yeast and baking products at the start of the pandemic?), to managing supply challenges due to customers’ panic buying and decreased movement of products and ingredients around the world, from worrying about income and cashflow to protecting our staff and customers, it is certainly true to say that this past ‘Covid Year’ has been challenging in the extreme.

Add into the mix the growth of online shopping and, in particular, online sellers using sites such as Amazon to sell products at discounted prices.

It’s not just our industry this affects. We have solidarity with retailers all over the world and one bookshop in the US has started to take on Amazon with a highly unusual strategy of promoting that they are selling their books at higher prices than Amazon, explaining that if customers want to continue to shop in bricks and mortar stores they need to accept that they have higher cost bases to cover. They point out that if they sold at the same price as Amazon they would be out of business in six days! The bookshop owner tells his customers (both in person and in online posts) that if they want to see Amazon as the world’s only retailer, then keep shopping there! Their strategy is working. Consumers are supporting his store and his strategy is being picked up by other booksellers across the US.

Of course, we all know what happens to products that start to devalue by allowing selling at discounted prices! The world is littered with promising brands that allowed greedy sellers to devalue their products. The only person who wins in the end is Jeff Bezos, everyone else loses. The consumer loses by the constant degradation of consumer goods as the more expensive, quality goods go out of business; the taxman loses out, not just because Amazon are infamous for dodging tax but decreased prices mean lower VAT and ultimately Corporation Tax, PAYE and NI from the staff of businesses that can’t compete; and local communities lose out as independent retailers that can’t compete go out of business.

And that is why NAHS has written to every industry manufacturer and supplier asking them to ensure that independent retailers are given a level playing field.

Obviously, Amazon isn’t suddenly going to cease to exist, but we believe that our industry’s independent retailers are in prime position to weather the covid and online storm. Tough times encourage us to be more creative with the resources we have, and we do many things that e-commerce can’t from personalised service to product expertise and community involvement.

We all have personal connections with our local communities and your customers know that you have been there for them through thick and thin. They want good service, product knowledge, connection with the community and convenience, and we are exceedingly strong in all of these areas. You are all doing a cracking job and we are very proud of you.

NAHS is here to help. Never has it been more important to belong to your industry trade association. Contact Avril McCracken on 01875 341408 or email office@nahs.co.uk

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