Supporting independent businesses this Christmas

Our recent research in consumer shopping habits has revealed that after the social restrictions and isolation brought by the pandemic, 90% of shoppers are craving the friendly service of local independent retailers.

We also found that nearly a third (31%) are shopping with local independents more than they were before the pandemic, with 42% saying they want to support smaller businesses that may be struggling because of Coronavirus. For nearly two thirds (64%) of shoppers, wanting to buy products from a specialist provider is also a key driver.

Key Research Findings*:

Our Survey respondents told us after a challenging Christmas last year, a friendly in-person shopping experience is what they are craving this festive season. We found the following reasons were also benefits of shopping local:

  • A genuine conversation and a more personal experience
  • Building close relationships with staff and having a friendly catch up whenever they visit
  • Visiting local independent retailer gives them an opportunity to catch up with neighbours and friends whilst shopping.

Independent Businesses

Independent businesses enjoyed a surge in support over the pandemic as more people discovered the joys of shopping small and local. With the pandemic driving up feelings of loneliness, independent local retailers such as farm shops, butchers, boutiques and garden centres are in a position to help our communities feel connected again.

Frank Woods, Retail Sector Specialist at NFU Mutual, said:

“Independent businesses are the fabric of our towns and villages and offer our communities a wealth of benefits. Friendly service, local knowledge, product specialties, unique gift options and reduced environmental impact are all areas independent retailers are striving to offer shoppers credentials above and beyond mainstream stores. With many of these businesses having something truly special to offer their community, we’re encouraging consumers to consider shopping with local independent retailers this Christmas and beyond.”

Farm shops

Farm shops were found to be a popular choice for consumers looking to shop local with our research finding that consumers chose to visit farm shops due to the quality of goods on offer. Seventy percent believe farm shops offer better, fresher produce and two thirds valuing the environmental benefits of sustainably produced goods with lower food miles. Seventy-three percent of people want to continue to use farm shops or use them more this Christmas to continue supporting local businesses and the economy over winter.

Following on from the pandemic, 73% of people surveyed are still wanting to use farm shops even more this Christmas to continue supporting local businesses and the economy over winter.

Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said:

“Whether farm shops delivered fresh produce to a vulnerable customer, sourced local flour for home bakers, or were there for a friendly chat over the counter at a lonely time – these rural retailers transformed their businesses and came into their own over Coronavirus.”

Our tips to help local independent retailers connect with their communities this Christmas:

  • Stay informed of community events, such as markets, fairs and Christmas light ceremonies and get involved wherever you can. This could be through sponsorships, spreading the word on social media or extending your opening hours to include the event times. NFU Mutual small business and small farm customers can sign up to free social media advice worth £1,140 with providing partner Maybe*, find out more.
  • Consider any gaps in the community’s Christmas celebrations. Could you bring people together by organising a festive event such as Christmas grotto or craft session?
  • Consider what personal touches you can add to your services, such as gift wrapping, making items specially to order and offering post-sales advice.
  • Consider extending your range of shopping options to make it as easy as possible for local people to shop with you. Things like advance ordering, click and collect and local doorstep deliveries have all become more commonplace during the pandemic and could work well as an addition to your business model.
  • Try and keep staff rotas as consistent as possible to allow regular customers to build relationships with employees.
  • Talk about any steps you have taken to lower your businesses’ environmental impact, such as sourcing materials/produce locally or using environmentally friendly packaging.

* Research conducted via Mutual Voice online survey with 569 NFU Mutual customers.