Article The changing value of money

Money and the high street: Where are we spending our money if not in big name shops?

Shopping, for many of us, is a pleasant experience and can often be a social event too, where we meet our friends to catch up. It used to be that everything could be found on the high street, but with increasing living costs and wages at a standstill, shoppers are now looking elsewhere for bargains. Websites such as Amazon and Ebay offer shoppers a cheaper experience, but people are also turning to websites such as Etsy and Folksy, with their well-made and more unique products, as well as supporting local businesses and buying from independent shops. I want to find out where shoppers are spending their money, if not on the high street, and the reasons for this.

Online seller Simmi Duffin, who runs the Etsy shop, Grace’s Favours, a shop selling gifts and toys for children, sees the benefit of running an online shop over having a physical shop. She says that had she had the costs of running a shop, she would have made a loss, but running her business through the craft website Etsy, has enabled her to make enough sales to cover her fees, while also giving her the freedom to work from home and look after her children.

Simmi, who started by making a felt letter alphabet and matching bag for her daughter, received positive feedback from other parents and began to sell to her friends. After posting photos of her makes on Facebook, more people wanted to buy her creations and the business grew from there. Now she makes personalised gifts and creates sewing patterns so that other people can make their own items.
Simmi thinks that people are more likely to buy online as they want things that have more meaning and that can be personalised.

She says, “I think the economic downturn means people are spending less frivolously but when they are buying things, they want more for their money.”

Most of Simmi’s business comes from Etsy, although she does sell to a number of quirky independent shops. Her clients, she says, are parents or people buying for children of their family members or relatives, looking for something different.

“They often don’t mind paying more for something that’s been created by hand, than something mass produced,” she says.

This is in contrast to the mass produced items the high street, and some websites such as Ebay, have to offer. Simmi thinks there has been a rise in buying from independent or online shops such as hers because people are bored with the huge influx of mass produced items which are often badly put together and don’t last. As a result, Simmi has seen a trend in buying handmade. Hand crafted items, she says, have a lasting value and mean more to the recipients as they have been made specifically for them.

She says, “There’s been a real trend towards buying something handmade.”

A better quality of service

Although many people do buy from websites such as Etsy, who reported $1.35billion worth of total merchandise sales in 2013, it isn’t just about saving money, but about getting more for your money in a time of uncertain economy. More shoppers who stray away from the high street shops often end up buying locally or from independent shops, although some people are put off by the higher prices they think independent shops charge.

I took to Twitter to ask people their reasons for why they prefer to shop independently. Many people agreed that there is more variety to be found in independent shops, as well as a better quality of products, and that items are more unique.

@AshleyKB91 on Twitter: “I love being able to support local creatives and find really eclectic items that I would never have come across otherwise. Shopping independently means I keep my style my own.”

Other reasons people had for not spending on the high street was to support the local businesses and traders. But Twitter user @Grabble suggested that independent shops are often the most visibly creative as there are less restrictions on them.

Although people tend to think that prices can be higher in these shops, shopper Simon Taylor, who tweets at @hotelinsight, says, “I think it’s in our mindset that independent equals high cost. Not always. And if you’re getting a unique product that’s not available in the mass market I don’t think you mind spending a little more.”

Although customers often think about the products in the shop, Twitter users also said that it was often down to the staff at these shops. Staff in independent shops often give a better quality of service, they said, as well as knowing more about the products they sell. Fellow journalist Gwen Dünner agrees.

Gwen says, “You can have a personal connection to the shop assistants, which I always find nice, especially if you live in a big, mostly anonymous, city.”

Supporting local businesses

Joe Schuppler, managing director of website Independent Birmingham, which is passionate about supporting the city’s lesser known shops, says he has seen a dramatic rise in popularity in people wanting to support independent businesses. The Independent Birmingham website was set up last year and brought out a membership card in March, a year long pass which enables customers to discounts and deals in the city’s cafés, restaurants, bars and shops. Independent Birmingham hopes that the card will then encourage people to discover the unique, intriguing and inspiring businesses in Birmingham rather than shopping on the high street. With almost 6000 Twitter followers and 2000 Facebook likes, there is obviously a need for this kind of scheme and it shows that customers do want to buy locally.

Joe Schuppler: “Independents allow people to express their individuality whilst supporting their local community.”

Joe says the reason people want to support local businesses is that they create products which cannot be found elsewhere. Alongside that, they want to feel that their city is unique, which independent shops can provide.

Joe says, “Independent businesses are the lifeblood of our local communities, injecting so much individual character and passion into our city that the chains seem to lack.”

Joe continues, “Independents allow people to express their individuality whilst supporting their local community.”

One business that promotes individuality is The Parlour in London. Owner Jacqueline Fletcher thinks that businesses like hers can offer something different that the high street cannot. The Parlour specialises in vintage and bohemian styles and visitors are given a mini afternoon tea alongside hair styling, cut and blowdrys and ‘how to’ workshops. Jacqueline describes her business as an overall experience and a social outing, often popular with friends or family members who want a unique day out.

Visitors to the salon are people who appreciate a nice one-off, Jacqueline says, and those who like to get more for their money, which the experience certainly gives them. Having seen an increase in interest for arts and crafts too, she says people are more interested in things which are upcycled and nostalgic.

She says, “People are more interested in unique pieces and the hidden gem.”

But Jacqueline does admit it can be difficult for independent shops and businesses to go against the high street.

She says, “Of course it is still a major struggle to compete with the big guys, but I think more and more people are starting to look at quality rather than cost.”

Jacqueline thinks it’s important for people to shop locally rather than on the high street. Local jobs, she says, boost the economy and make the high street completely unique to that place.

“Shopping locally,” she says, “means that towns can retain their individuality by supporting local crafts and services.”

Although shopping can be many things; a social activity, a search for bargains or a way of supporting local businesses, it is we, as consumers, who get to choose how we spend our money. Whether we are buying on the high street, online, or in independent shops, it is clear that we care about how and where it is spent.

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