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Could Bristol’s new currency resurrect the high street?
Claire | October 18, 2012
The city of Bristol currently takes two currencies. The Bristol Pound is a voucher scheme that’s designed to support local businesses in all sectors, with each Bristol Pound being equal to one pound sterling. Independent retailers are making waves by setting up discounts for voucher users, and the idea has caught the imagination of shoppers all over town. The local council is thinking about accepting the currency for rate payments, and local people are asking to be paid partly in Bristol Pounds and partly in GBP.
In the run up to the festive season, it’s hardly surprising that this kind of scheme is welcomed by cash-strapped Britons. Discounts make all the difference in a double-dip recession. In turn, independent retailers are given a PR boost and a chance to benefit from renewed interest and footfall, shoring up their position in the face of competition from chain stores.
Could it be that British shoppers are turning their back on big retailers? If so, it would represent a phenomenal shift in how we spend our money this quarter. On October 2nd 2011, Tesco reported a massive 11 per cent fall in profits; it was the first time in 18 years that the company had announced a loss. JJB Sports went into administration, making it the latest in a string of familiar brands to vanish from the high street.
In areas where shops such as Peacocks, Woolworths and Borders have moved out, buildings sit empty. Often, charity shops move in, taking advantage of lower rents and buyers’ desire for a bargain. The 21st Charity Shop Survey reported in early October that charity shops have seen their revenue rise 6.8 per cent as the high street around them shuts down, store-by-store. In the meantime, Marks & Spencer, Ocado and Tesco have all renewed marketing efforts designed to push low-cost, basic food.
At the same time, MoneySavingExpert.com reports a rise in high street haggling, with customers taking on big brands head-to-head on price. Out of 2,544 shoppers surveyed, more than 70 per cent of those who haggled at Comet, B&Q and PC World left with a discount. This Is Money recently reported that independent electrical suppliers are often price-matching large stores on household basics.
Etsy, the online craft marketplace, is also catching on to the trend. With less than 100 days to go until Christmas, the company has recruited a new Country Manager in the hope of raising its profile among shoppers. Nicole Vanderbilt brings considerable marketing experience to Etsy, having worked with Google and other household names in her previous roles. Now Nicole will face the challenge of capturing the UK’s appetite for bargain hunting and translate that into an enthusiasm for handmade crafts and gifts. Crafting is a niche which is well-supported in the US but, so far, the UK has been less of a focus for Etsy.
Perhaps the rise of the charity shop proves that people are willing to change the way they shop. The enthusiasm for the Bristol Pound suggests that British buyers are keen to support independent retailers. Marketing local goods with discounts could give the high street a much-needed boost.
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