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Independent retailers react to May 2022 ONS data: "we will soon lose more businesses"

Tom Shearsmith
24 June 2022

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that consumers reined in their spending in May amid belt-tightening due to the cost-of-living crisis.

The data showed a pull back in spending on household goods and in department stores, with sales dropping 2.3% and 1.1% respectively, as shoppers worry about affordability. Data did however show a 2.2% increase in clothing sales, offset by a fall in household goods.

TheIndustry.fashion speaks to independent business owners about how they are managing rising costs and reduced spending:

Shirley Leader, Director of Petersfield-based woman's clothing boutique, Velvet & Rose:

“Sales for May and June have been good and steady as people are shopping for the summer season both for home and away. Our footfall has doubled compared to a year ago so this has helped our sales. The cost of living is a worry, of course. We hope that the Government can do more to help small retail businesses.

“We recently renewed our energy contract and our bill for the coming year will be more than double. Wholesale clothing prices and shipping costs have gone up, too. If nothing is done, we will soon lose more businesses. Locally, I believe that town councils can do more to support all of the town versus just the main squares and high street. Each business brings business into the town so we all need the support of the council to bring customers in.”

Helen Williams, Director at Middlewich-based Willow Bridal Boutique:

“The independent retail sector was one of the hardest hit during Covid, with no VAT reduction unlike the hospitality sector, added to which we had to continue paying rents. A VAT reduction would be beneficial to small independent businesses to help with rising costs and overheads. Within the bridal wedding industry, people are still planning their 2023/24 weddings but their budgets for items are lower due to ongoing price rises in other sectors.”

Racheal Straughan, Director of Newcastle upon Tyne-based marketplace, Mayfli:

“All of the small businesses on our platform have taken a huge hit to their sales, as consumers are only buying essentials. We have one furniture business that has gone from 200 sales a week to 40 and has had to lay off staff. People are still trying to support local where they can but the likes of Amazon who offer huge discounts and make it so easy to buy are incredibly difficult for small retailers to compete against. The online giants of retail have a merciless monopoly.”

Jamie Rackham, Founder of UK independent business group, Not on Amazon:

“We’re in a retail apocalypse and, at this rate, it will only be the global giants, which can afford to slash their prices, that will survive. Big businesses are getting bigger while the small independents are having the life squeezed out of them. A constant theme on our group is the lack of sales and the frightening increase in the cost of raw materials. Everything is costing more to produce at the same time as people have less to spend. People are having to fight tooth and nail to keep their micro businesses going and the Government is doing nothing.”

Elizabeth McQuillan, Artisan Jeweller at Boho Silver:

“Unsurprisingly, consumers are increasingly making purchase decisions based on cost. We’ve seen a significant dip in sales. With large retailers offering huge discounts, it’s impossible for small independent businesses to compete. We have had a few returning customers asking for favourable rates, which is difficult. We want to help our customers, but we honestly can’t afford to.

“As a small artisan jewellery business, we have been dealing with huge hikes in precious metal costs as people invest in bullion, as well as increased demand for silver from other industries. This is on top of the increased costs we are facing for everything from the overheads of working from home, to packaging and posting. It’s a never-ending money pit.”

Nikki Collier, owner of Sudbury-based kidswear company, BiNibabies:

“As a small retailer, May and June and been the been the worst months since we have been in business. I’ve seen a 60% drop in both online and footfall sales and inflation is almost certainly the cause. We cannot compete with large high street stores slashing prices. We are constantly putting on 50% sales to compete but that means making a loss. People want a bargain in the current climate but for us it’s simply not sustainable.”

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