It’s a challenging time for shopkeepers. Retail sales are stagnant while costs are rising rapidly. And worst of all, I’m in competition with myself.
Let me explain. By day I’m Dr Jekyll running my shop Your Life Your Style in the centre of Winchester. As night falls, I become Mr Hyde the online entrepreneur with my website YourLifeYourStyle.co.uk. As Dr Jekyll, I’m a respectable member of the local community, paying rent and taxes that date from the economic boom, and actually serving real local people. As Mr Hyde, I can go like a mercenary wherever the costs are low- on an out-of-town industrial estate or an Enterprise Zone. I can even set up on the Channel Islands and sell my lower priced products free of VAT.
Mr Hyde’s online retail business also benefits from not needing a shop floor to display products or paying staff who stand around waiting for a customer. The work of picking and packing in a warehouse can be spread throughout the day (or would that be night in Mr Hyde’s case?). I say this knowing that online trading has challenges of its own- competition on a scale that a bricks-and-mortar shop never faces. It’s a Wild West in which many manufacturers are joining in and selling direct to the public. The consequence is usually lower prices than shops charge, even allowing for shipping and the huge marketing costs involved in getting yourself noticed on the web.
Of course, my online business is run from the back of my Winchester shop so it doesn’t benefit as much as some but even so it’s far more profitable per square foot than the front end. I’m not alone in having a dual personality. There’s hardly a shop business around that doesn’t also trade online, trying to get a foothold on the new world before the old one crumbles beneath them.
It sometimes seems inevitable that Mr Hyde will eventually stand alone across much of the retail landscape with Dr Jekyll retaining only a few flagship shops in key locations like London’s Oxford Street or Winchester’s High Street. My only hope for the good doctor and the many customers who still like to shop in person is a major revision of rents and rates to realistic levels. Of course I am writing these words of encouragement during the daytime. In a few hours, when darkness has descended, I fear my hands will once again be stained with shopkeepers’ blood.
A version of this article appeared on the Southern Daily Echo website