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How Independent Retailers Are Thriving, Not Just Surviving, in the Online Era

Before the era of internet shopping giants, chain stores and independent retailers duked it out in the high street – and the deep-pocketed chain stores often won. Now, with consumers increasingly going online when they want low prices and convenience, the chains are struggling to stay competitive, while independent retailers are holding steady in their niches by offering excellent customer service, strong local knowledge, and the authenticity that the youngest consumers (those practically raised on the internet) seem to value even more than many older shoppers.

With once-popular chain stores closing left and right, it’s hard to remember the era when chains seemed like an existential threat to independent retail. Offering a standardised shopping experience that felt familiar no matter which location you visited, the chains also benefited from stronger buying power, allowing them to sell their products at deep discounts, and splashy, expensive national and regional marketing campaigns that pushed them into prominence among UK consumers.


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Now, the chain store’s greatest selling points – familiarity, lower prices, and big ad budgets – have left them almost defenceless against the internet giants, who also offer all these things, only more of them. So who is left standing on the high street? The independent retailers, who have realised there’s no need for a David-and-Goliath battle when they can simply distinguish their offerings from the online giants on their own terms.

Here are five reasons smart, independent retailers are still going strong despite the assault from chain stores and, now, the online giants:

Customer Service
Independent retailers are often staffed by their owners, who are generally more likely to provide consistently outstanding customer service because it’s their business at stake. Even when staff are helping customers, their advice, conversation, or simply their friendliness and enthusiasm can translate into a better customer service experience for buyers.

A Home on the High Street
Most people view their local high street as the centre of their communities, and even when problems like parking issues and litter tarnish a high street’s reputation, it will still always have a role to play in a town’s identity. Independent retailers add to people’s pride in their local high streets by offering unique retail experiences that can’t be found anywhere else.

The Democratisation of Technology
Today, it’s not just the big online companies that can track customer purchases and preferences and reach out to them with personalised, targeted advertising – as new retail technologies become less expensive, independent retailers who adopt them can be just as tech-savvy in attracting and retaining customers as the big online marketplaces.

Even ‘Digital Natives’ Crave Authenticity
Millennials and Generation Z have both been described as ‘digital natives’ – people who have always had the internet and cell phones within easy reach growing up. That’s why it might surprise some people to know that these digital nomads are increasingly seeking out independent retailers for many reasons; they want authentic and unique products, they increasingly don’t trust sharing their personal information with huge tech firms, and they want to physically see the product (and assess its quality) before making a purchase, after being disappointed by online purchases that were nothing like what was promised.

Smart Independent Retailers Know When to Seek Help
Independent retailers who are thriving in this competitive marketplace understand that ‘independent’ is just their legal structure, not a vow of isolation, and they seek help from expert consultants and mentors when they’re making important decisions about new directions or strategies for growth. ‘Independent’ doesn’t have to mean going it alone – seek out resources and experts who can help your business reach its full potential.

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