By Daniel Hunter

Independent retailers are fighting to compete with the likes of Amazon, Tesco and other major supermarket giants with the launch this week of an innovative programme to take 200 of Britain’s High Streets online.

With one in seven shops across British High Streets lying empty, a powerful cross-industry coalition of MyHigh.St, the British Independent Retailers Association (bira) and Rakuten’s, working with Action for Market Towns and the Association of Town and City Management, have joined forces to boost the fortunes of independent retailers.

The coalition — called target200 — is launching a new e-commerce network that for the first time gives towns a platform to showcase their High Streets and independent shopkeepers a simple, affordable and effective chance to sell their products online whilst driving instore footfall.

The MyHigh.St website allows shoppers to visit their local High Street whatever the weather, any time of the day or night, via their PC, tablet, or mobile phone. The combination of e-commerce and High Street showcase, coupled with “click and collect” and an independent shops’ loyalty system, enables shoppers to buy online whilst encouraging visits in person.

At the coalition’s launch in Westminster on Thursday (October 31), a new report from MyHigh.St and its partners will show that a third (32%) of people do not believe that their High Street has a future, with half saying that they are not proud of their local High Street.

The report, entitled A Nation of Shopkeepers, also reveals that, with more people shopping online, four in 10 people are scared of losing their High Street, with the figure rising to 49% among women.

The findings, conducted by ICM and based on a poll of 2,000 people, also found that:

- Over half of people (56%) think there is not enough choice on the High Street
- Four in 10 (44%) think there is a lack of originality in the products chain stores sell
- A third of people (33%) believe that the staff in chain stores are often unfriendly, and that there is overcrowding on the shop floor
- Almost a third of people (30%) said they were more likely to shop in small, independent stores in the wake of stories about large businesses avoiding paying corporation tax
- Two thirds want a High Street which has a good mix of independent and chain stores

MyHigh.St was conceived last year by Loaye Agabani, a toy shop owner from Somerset with a big vision. He saw that a network of digital High Streets, showcasing all that Britain’s shopkeepers have on offer, would deliver a compelling shopping experience and a means to attract visitors to towns.

Loaye Agabani, Co-founder of MyHigh.St, said: “The High Street is facing its toughest ever battle. This year has seen our town centre chains shut more than thirty shops per month as the pressure from online competitors, out-of-town shopping centres and the economic climate took its toll. Independent retailers are currently holding their ground with their focus on service and product differentiation but we worry this is not sustainable as competition grows — we need to take these attributes and help this community thrive, not just survive.

“The collapse of our High Streets will have deep repercussions on communities across the UK. Britain’s High Streets are not just a collection of shops. They are the beating heart of our towns and cities. They are places to meet, eat, and socialise. They are places of employment, as well as a platform for entrepreneurial retailers to thrive.

“After numerous reviews, reports and pilots programmes, it’s time for action. Our website empowers independent retailers to fight back against the rise of online shopping from faceless warehouses, showing them that the internet, when used effectively, can boost their business and get money flowing back into their tills.”

Alan Hawkins, Chief Executive of bira, said: “Traditional independent shops are digging deep to hold their position with a marginal growth in numbers in the first half of this year — but we fear this is not sustainable in light of the growing challenges they face. Having a showcase to celebrate our towns as digital and real-life shopping destinations, empowering retailers to embrace ecommerce and secure their share of this growing economy, explains why 200 retailers have already signed up. This service is good for shoppers, good for retailers and good for communities.”

Some 200 retailers from towns across the UK took place in the beta trial of the MyHigh platform, including those from Bristol and Bath in the Southwest, Cromer in the East, as well as towns in Norfolk, Wales, London and as far north as Cupar in Scotland.

Shingo Murakami, Managing Director of Rakuten’s, added: “We have built a global business by harnessing the power of the internet to help smaller businesses compete and grow; whilst protecting their individuality and their brands. With 40,000 online retailers in Japan alone we know that this approach delivers for retailers and consumers alike. We are committed as part of our growth in the UK to providing an alternative to the traditional product driven approach of the established e-commerce players and to bringing MyHigh’s independent retailers to our 16 million UK customers.”

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