A RALLYING cry has been issued for shoppers to support local independent retailers as this year’s Christmas shopping season gets underway.
Larne was aglow with festive cheer on Friday, November 23 as this year’s switch on ceremony took place at Broadway, heralding the official start of the Christmas shopping spree, which is a crucial time for traders.
And after recent revelations that Northern Ireland has the highest shop vacancy rate in the UK – with almost one in five local shops now sitting vacant – Larne traders will be clinging to the hope that more people will pay a visit to locally-run shops when looking for presents this year.
But with out-of-town retailing, car parking charges and the power of the internet to compete with, Larne Traders’ Forum chairman John Shannon acknowledged that high street retailers need all the support they can get if they are to survive.
He told the Times: “Consumers in Larne have a major role to play in helping to boost the local economy this Christmas.
“The knock-on effect from the devastating job loss at FG Wilson will have a big impact on the local economy, so it is more important than ever that consumers make the decision to shop in the Larne borough this Christmas.
“If people don’t go out of their way to shop locally, more jobs could be lost. The chances of any major inward investment in Larne are slim, but consumers can do a lot to help struggling high street retailers.”
Mr Shannon added that there are “many benefits” with shopping locally, including “friendly staff, great customer service and competitive prices”.
“We as retailers are trying to buy our stock as cheaply as possible from our suppliers, so that we can pass on these savings to our customers,” he added.
“Town centre shops are often staffed by local people, who will make you feel welcome with a friendly greeting, which you don’t often get in some of the bigger out-of-town shops.
“One of the other benefits of shopping on the high street is that you know exactly what you are buying and you know you will have it in time for Christmas, which is not always the case when shopping online.”
Although many are pointing towards the internet as a key driver behind the demise of the high street, Dan Wagner, CEO of mPowa, believes there is room for both to coexist. mPowa is a point-of-sale device that enables credit and debit card payments to be made on the go using a smartphone or other mobile device.
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“Consumers have become more demanding in the way they purchase goods than ever before,” he added. “Sophisticated mobile handsets and tablets mean shoppers have a myriad of choices on how, what and when they buy. The challenge for the retailers in Northern Ireland is to ensure that they have a variety of platforms which allow them to purchase at the point when the customer is ready, wherever they might be. Many retailers who have not got a comprehensive multichannel strategy are suffering severe consequences as result.
“Whilst SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) could stand to gain the most from online sales, their awareness remains poor. Bricks and mortar stores can’t afford to ignore the benefits that digital channels can deliver and if they can incorporate this into their current approach to retailing, they can become much better prepared for the modern shopper,” Mr Wagner said..
Larne Mayor, Councillor Gerardine Mulvenna – who helped Santa switch on the Christmas lights on Friday – is urging as many people as possible to show their support for independent stores.
“The countdown to Christmas is now officially underway and I would encourage local people to stay in the borough for all their shopping needs this festive season,” she concluded.