Shop­keep­ers’ sur­vival

The Daily Telegraph - - Letters to the editor -

Napoleon de­scribed Britain as a na­tion of shop­keep­ers. But while lo­cal stores re­main stal­warts of the econ­omy, they are em­ploy­ing fewer peo­ple than ever. The higher na­tional min­i­mum wage, now £7.50 but set to rise to £9 an hour within five years, is mak­ing it too ex­pen­sive for in­de­pen­dent own­ers to keep pa­per­boys and counter staff in a job. In­stead they are in­vest­ing in new pay­ment tech­nol­ogy.

Chang­ing con­sumer tastes are also af­fect­ing the way we shop, with a de­cline in news­pa­per sales and a fall in the num­ber of smok­ers lead­ing to fewer ca­sual vis­its. The As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ve­nience Stores says thou­sands of shop own­ers are now sack­ing staff and re­plac­ing per­sonal con­tact with self-ser­vice check­outs, many of which do not ac­cept cash any more. Shop­keep­ers are blam­ing the move on their in­creas­ing over­heads.

In­dus­try fig­ures for March to May show one in five con­ve­nience re­tail­ers in­vested in up­grad­ing their stores, spend­ing a to­tal of £40 mil­lion. This has far-reach­ing so­cial con­se­quences. The loss of the per­sonal touch in cor­ner shops will de­prive those who like to pop in for a chat, in­clud­ing some vul­ner­a­ble older peo­ple, of ba­sic hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.

De­spite the rise of the big su­per­mar­kets and on­line re­tail­ing, neigh­bour­hood stores still rep­re­sent about one fifth of the gro­cery mar­ket. The UK has around 55,000 lo­cal stores and cor­ner shops, and about 35,000 are in­de­pen­dently – of­ten fam­ily – owned. But higher over­head costs im­posed by politi­cians mean they have to adapt to sur­vive if Bon­a­parte’s jibe is still to ap­ply. Many thought he meant it sneer­ingly, but it would be a sad day if he were proved defini­tively wrong.

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