Tuesday 30 June 2020 5:38 am

Flexible thinking has got small businesses through this crisis — now we can shop local to support them

Jeni Mundy is managing director UK & Ireland at Visa

Over the past few months we have seen and heard countless stories of small, local businesses hit hard by the economic lockdown. 

Covid-19 has triggered businesses to reassess how they can engage with customers in new and innovative ways, and many have had to adapt quickly to survive. 

Art workshops and yoga classes are being offered through Zoom, cafés and restaurants have become strictly takeaway only, and countless other businesses have started to offer products and services online. 

Read more: Adapt planning and licencing rules or risk losing the high street forever

It is truly admirable to see how firms have adapted. But many do not have the resources or the knowledge to easily transform their business models. This poses a real problem, at a time when it’s never been more vital for small businesses to find new ways to continue serving their customers. 

But help is at hand for local businesses which want to go digital but don’t have the know-how.  In fact, I’ve been heartened to see the flurry of community groups, online platforms and social networks put their manpower and funds into supporting small businesses. 

At Visa, we’ve experienced this first-hand. Since the start of the crisis, we’ve teamed up with marketplaces and platforms, from Ebay and Shopify to Deliveroo and DownYourHighStreet.com, to offer starter packages for small businesses wanting to build a digital presence at reduced cost. We’ve also partnered with providers like iZettle and SafeCharge so independent businesses can start accepting digital payments with ease. 

Thousands of businesses across the UK are beginning to see the results. Take Kooks Unlimited, an independent cookware shop in Richmond, which signed up to DownYourHighStreet.com just before lockdown and is already reaping the benefits of being able to sell to customers online. Even as footfall started falling, an increase in online sales meant that Kooks has been selling more online than it does at Christmas (usually its busiest time), bringing in income which will be vital in keeping the business running going forward.

So despite the long road ahead to recovery, there is cause for optimism. With lockdown restrictions gradually easing and high streets reopening with caution, navigating a balance between online and offline measures to entice customers will be key to survival for many small businesses. For some, this new blended approach may even be a positive step towards future-proofing their business for the long term.  

Small businesses are the backbone of the UK economy, so it is also crucial to remind consumers to do what they can to support them through this time. We must all remember the power of where we choose to spend our pounds and pennies. 

By supporting small businesses and shopping local, we can all do our own, small bit to save our high streets — during this crisis and beyond.

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Main image credit: Getty

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