‘It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas’…
I know. I know. It’s only October, but I can’t get that song out of my head.
Presently, it clearly isn’t looking (or feeling) much like Christmas. However, like many of my friends, it’s on my mind, a symbol of potential hope and joy to end what has been a pretty exhausting and trying year.
I just adore the festive season. I love everything about it. Partying with friends and family, the buzz on the high street and in bars and restaurants, even spending endless hours decorating my house. The art of gift giving also brings me so much happiness. From the process of selecting that perfect present and exquisitely wrapping it up, to seeing the joy in my loved ones’ eyes as they open their parcels. The very thought of it gives me the warm and fuzzies – even this far out.
This year though, the reality of what December will actually look like is so unknown. As a result, the uncertainty has really made me contemplate the few elements I can control, and while I’m putting a hold on organising parties and nights out with sadness, I’m left contemplating what I can really do with the decorations and gifts I purchase (or make).
I had a realisation last week, whilst reading about the state of the UK high street. My Christmas shopping habits have never mattered more. Neither have yours.
This year, where we spend our cash will play a huge role in determining the future of the UK retail industry. We all have power here. To paraphrase Anna Lappé, every time we spend, we are casting a vote for the future world we desire.
I realise this all sounds dramatic, but the Christmas season is dubbed the ‘Golden Quarter’ by retailers for a reason. According to the Centre for Retail Research, UK Christmas spending can account for anywhere between a third and nearly two-thirds of a retailer’s annual turnover.
This year, with our high streets undoubtedly in trouble, that’s never mattered more. COVID has ravaged our shopping centres and has already killed off many brands. Landlords and developers have been forced to close down as much as 12 million square metres of retail space. The annual Global Property Development Trends report warns non-food retailers, who were already struggling as a result of high rents and the rise in online shopping, have been further impacted by the pandemic to the tune of £9 billion in sales so far this year.
According to the Centre for Retail Research, 13,867 shops have closed their doors permanently so far this year – a 24.8 per cent rise on the same period last year – with a cost of 125,000 jobs. Even in ‘normal’ circumstances, a bad Christmas can mark disaster for a small business. While the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ has always rung true here, this year, it feels amplified by about a million.
So, when you consider that businesses we know, love and have frequented for years are in trouble, we have to think carefully about how we spend our money this Christmas.
A love of local
Obviously, I am a huge advocate of shopping sustainably and locally. And this year, more than ever, I plan on being far more conscious of this when compiling my Christmas gift list.
When you buy local, you are boosting your own local economy. Research on spending shows that for every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business, 63p stays in the local economy, compared to just 40p when you spend with a larger business. The local choice is often more ethical too, particularly in food categories where a decent percentage of produce has had a short field-to-fork journey and, as an added bonus, probably used less packaging too.
Independents shops will often stock more limited edition and one-off items, meaning more unique gifts for those you love. It gets away from the sort of thoughtless mass production that saw nearly every female in the UK wearing that same spotty Zara dress last year, and brings personality and character to our local high streets. This authenticity is something our chain stores are continually trying to replicate.
Shopping with and investing in local businesses means you can have a very strong and positive effect on the health of the local jobs market in your area. Small firms are, surprisingly, the largest creator of employment nationally. Buying locally also helps support independent entrepreneurs, rebuilding our communities in a way that huge online companies simply can’t. A fabulous local high street also adds value to our house prices.
This entrepreneurial space is where innovation happens. It is the foundation of the wonderful bustling British high street and this year, more than ever, it needs us. So, instead of reaching for your phone and thoughtlessly clicking on that Amazon app, have a look in your local independent stores. Browse the websites of your favourite small brands, or give them a call. If you don’t know who they are, have a look in your local community social media groups, or ask friends to recommend.
Without doubt, these incredible and innovative local business will have something unique and wonderful for you to gift your loved ones. And when you find those little gems that you know will make a them smile, you’ll also be helping to keep a local sales person in a job, a store on your local high street open and prompting the owner of that business to do a little happy dance over each and every sale. As a small business owner myself, I can assure you, it really does mean that much.
Indeed, by shopping ethically, sustainably and locally, you are, in fact, giving the ultimate gift to your local business community – a future.