The Canterbury Hub

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Independent shops and sellers: How are they surviving? 

9th April 2019

Independent shops, they are everywhere. But how are they evolving and are they taking over chain store’s place? You’ve probably heard of companies such as HMV, BHS and Toys R Us which have seemingly stepped down from dominating our High Streets. 

 Some companies have gone bust and others have struggled to keep stores open in the ever-increasing internet orientated society.
Many High Street stores such as H&M and Cex have online stores too, making their stock widely available to the masses and more inter-generational.  

Individuals can sell handmade and unique items on websites which allow them to become online independent entities. Online companies such as “Etsy’ and ‘Zazzle’ allow members to sell their independent items, ranging from products such as graphic prints and mug designs to cards, clothes and coasters.  

These websites are growing in popularity and membership. They let individual sellers effectively own their own online store within the website. This means that a percentage of their earnings goes to the website company, as rent would do for physical shops that are open on the High Street. 

Here is the journey of ordering online:

As individuals can have their own stores online, this would seem to go hand in hand with independent shops, as they both essentially do the same thing: own a company or brand that is different from chain stores. 

 So why are internet stores that feature individual sellers attracting so much attention year on year? 

Areas of the High Street in many towns seem to be struggling to survive as both same day and next day delivery grow in popularity. After all, the trend seems to be that if you can browse, compare prices and order items from the comfort of your own home, then why go out to the High Street to do it? 

 I spoke to Adele Stocker who owns an Etsy store delliesdesigns, to see what she sells online and why she thinks people like shopping from independent sellers online.  

Online sellers like 21-year-old Adele benefit from selling their items online. Adele has multiple conditions such as Chronic Fatigue and Fibro Myalgia which make it extremely hard for her to maintain a regular job, as it takes a toll on her health. Since opening her online Etsy store in March this year, she has created beautiful items that have generated a lot of interest and has even had special items commissioned for her to make.  

She told me that having her online store has allowed her to contribute to her family’s income and she had also found a lot of support from other individual sellers in the online community who face similar trials as herself.  

It is undeniable to say that the internet plays a significant role in today’s society, with primary schools even using it to set tasks and homework for children to do. With mobile devices becoming commonplace in our homes and amongst the younger generations it is hard to imagine the sale of items online will do anything but increase.  

According to PwC, Local Data Company figures, High Street shop openings were dramatically less than those that closed in the first half of last year. 

Number of shops that opened and shut in the UK (2018).

Their figures also show fashion stores were amongst the highest store closures on the High Street in 2018. In a documentary on the BBC, Stacey Dooley, investigated the trend of ‘fast fashion’ that seems to have dominated the current society.  

‘Fast fashion’ is the umbrella term for the increase of changing styles and fashion trends in a year. For instance: In years gone by, fashion trends would change to fit the seasons. However, in recent years fashion trends have sometimes escalated to multiple trends per season.  

Therefore, with second-hand online stores such as ‘Depop’, ‘ebay’ and ‘Shpock’, individuals have been able to sell their unwanted fashion items to make room for the new trends much more quickly and easily than previously.  

With this immediacy of potential sales, it could explain the rise in individual sellers creating their own online stores of both self-created and second-hand items. Sites such as ‘ebay’ have been around for many years and would seemingly be a testament to the potential longevity and interest in individual selling.  

Second hand selling: 

Max Williams, 20, from Kent has his own ‘Depop’ account where he buys second-hand items from online sellers. He explained to me why he likes buying from this marketplace.  

“I buy a lot of clothes that are hard to come by on the general market. People put up limited shirts etc. from bands that will never likely be made again. That’s what I like about it! It’s like other second-hand online shops but for people who have a genuine interest in what they are selling, which makes it seem that much more personal.”  

—Max Williams

Amy Walters from Bridgefield in Kent believes that both online and physical shops have their benefits when it comes to selling independently.

 As well as having her own online ‘Etsy’ store, Amy also features her products in a collaborate shop called ‘Made in Ashford’. This store allows local designers and makers a place to physically sell their stock for a small price. 

 She also gets commissions from customers, so being online helps her to be able to gain commissions from people all over the UK and abroad.

Here is a time-lapse video of her working on a custom order:

So, how are independent sellers and shops surviving? 

The want for unique items has also fuelled the want for independent stores that offer collections of items curated from other places, new items specific to the store and styles which differ from those in mainstream chain stores.  

Another quality of online stores is the availability and accessibility of services which cannot be delivered online. For instance, trades such as hairdressing, dog grooming and coffee shops are among those which offer face to face interaction.  

Here in Canterbury we have lots of independent shops such as Burgate Coffee shop, The Dog Store, The Veg Box cafe, and Wrapped. These shops offer unique products or collections of products, making them more desirable. In fact, some people actually prefer to shop in independent shops rather than in larger chain stores.

The Kings Mile in particular has lots of independent shops, as well as 'Made in Canterbury' in Whitefriars which, much like 'Made in Ashford', curates the works of local individual sellers, with lots of handmade items from artwork to graphic prints.

Both online and on the Street you can find great independent shops that will continue to thrive in the future. So why not check them out?

You never know, you might find something unique at a great quality. In these uncertain times why not support local independent businesses and admire the beauty in the unique products?