High street shops have been under pressure from online retailers for years, and the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the situation. Thankfully, with the population now freely able to enter shops, there is hope that the high street can recover.

But this shouldn’t simply be viewed as a return to pre-pandemic normality. The impact of successive lockdowns is an opportunity to reinvent the high street, embrace digital technology and reinvigorate the shopping experience.

Stores that survived through lockdowns - and we’ll talk about some of them in this article - have been prepared to change their way of thinking, altering their business models and seeking out new revenue streams. Takeaway options, online sales with delivery or click-and-collect, virtual showrooms and digital services have all helped to keep bricks-and-mortar businesses alive. They have cut themselves a slice of the additional £5.3 billion that was spent online in 2020.

A person opening a shop's shutters.

 

And far from short-term responses, these initiatives arguably point the way forward. Companion internet stores can provide greater reach, and improved digital marketing capable of attracting new customers. Technology isn’t a replacement for the high street shopping experience, it is now an integral part of what shoppers expect from it. As we’ve seen elsewhere, the pandemic has accelerated a digital transformation that was already underway in Wales. And it’s not too late to jump on board.

During lockdown, WoodenGold’s investment in digital resulted in 837% more sales.

To help retail businesses make the most of the new opportunities that digital affords, Superfast Business Wales offers a range of free help and advice, including a wide range of digital workshops followed by one-to-one sessions with a personal digital business adviser. The following case studies provide some fascinating insights into the ways that technology has already helped Welsh businesses to transform their fortunes.

Situated near Cardiff city centre, WoodenGold is a family-run artisanal goldsmith producing handcrafted rings. Jeweller Stephen Cichocki had already set up a website using Wix, which was beautiful to look at but difficult to navigate, and sold his rings via the online marketplace Etsy.

As custom began to tail off in a tough 2020, Cichocki decided to improve his online presence and attended a Superfast Business Wales digital marketing course. "I have always been an online business anyway,” he explains. “So, the web and social media have always been useful. But I realised through lockdown that marketing is the life blood of a business and, without a robust marketing schedule, it’s a matter of time before it dies.”

With some direction, Stephen focussed on building trust and buyer confidence in his business by pushing videos out via Instagram and using targeted ads on Facebook, which in turn drove traffic to a new and improved website. During lockdown his investment in digital has resulted in 837% more sales and pushed purchase prices upwards by 70%.

“My two lines of attack [during lockdown] were an SEO package for my website - to create good consistent sales - and then shorter term social media campaigns if I needed to top up or I was doing anything new or exciting. Superfast Business Wales had a hand in helping me learn about digital marketing, which ended up being the tipping point for my business."

Superfast Business Wales gave me the knowledge and confidence to set up Kiti’s online shop during lockdown.

In Pontcanna, you’ll find Kiti, a small single-store fashion boutique. When the arrival of lockdown saw the bricks-and-mortar store closed to customers, the business knew they had to find a new way of selling their exclusive labels.

A laptop showing Kiti website.

 

Initially, the team turned to their existing social media channels, using livestreams on Instagram to present their new lines. And, as garments were shown off, so the sales rolled in. However, they still needed an online function to actually fulfil orders. So, after a consultation with a Superfast Business Wales Digital Business Adviser, Kiti’s Jane Rowlands built a website using Shopify. She then honed her search engine optimisation (SEO) skills to increase her store’s visibility on Google.

“Superfast Business Wales gave me the knowledge and confidence to set up Kiti’s online shop during lockdown,” explains Jane. “We already had an online presence with Instagram, but needed to add a shop due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Our customers welcomed this addition and we continue to grow the site with new products. We have found this to be a very positive addition to our bricks-and-mortar business.”

Head west along the M4 to Carmarthen and you’ll find Spiffy, a self-styled ‘Happiness Shop’ that sells products that promote health and wellbeing. While lockdown also forced the physical store to close, founders Paul Young and Shaun Potter were well placed to ride out the pandemic.

Thanks to their work with Superfast Business Wales, Spiffy already had an online shop, built using Shopify. Taking an SEO course, meanwhile, ensured that the website was optimised to attract customers, not just from the UK, but from all around the world. In fact, the online store worked so well doing lockdown that Spiffy had to lease a warehouse and take on extra staff to meet demand.

Even with the easing of lockdown restrictions, retail remains an uncertain environment. But with a programme of free support from Superfast Business Wales, there’s a clear pathway for shops to develop and enhance their online sales and digital marketing efforts. These three businesses have already reaped the benefits, not just surviving through the pandemic, but thriving and well positioned for whatever comes next.


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