Faire Report Finds Digital Innovation Gives British Independent Retailers Reason to be Hopeful and Will be Key to Their Continued Success

April 25, 2023  |  By Faire

New research commissioned by Faire, the online marketplace used by independent retailers to discover and buy unique products from around the world, finds that embracing technology is key to independent retail’s success during one of the most turbulent times in retail history – and that by competing on quality and values retailers can outcompete big box retailers who optimise on price.

In the survey of 2,000 consumers and 100 independent UK retail leaders, conducted by Opinium on behalf of Faire, 66% of British independent retailers said that since embracing digital operations, their business was thriving and 48% reported that embracing technology had increased their revenues. 

Consumers want to support their local shops, and see value beyond price

In difficult times, almost a third (30%) of British consumers say they feel responsible for supporting independent retailers and, in the last year, 40% have shopped at an independent retailer.

While some consumers (48%) say that independent retailers are too expensive, those surveyed also cited a number of reasons they still prefer independents over big box retailers. These included being able to support their local communities, finding new and interesting products, and the great customer service they provide.

Many also cited social good as a reason to shop independent, with 32% saying it allows them to reduce their carbon footprint and 20% saying they provide more sustainable products. This interest is reflected on the Faire platform, with retailers in the UK spending over nine figures in volume on products that are eco-friendly, women-owned, or handmade over the past year. One of the most popular product categories for UK retailers shopping on Faire  are products not sold on Amazon, demonstrating that consumers shopping at independent retailers are doing so to find unique products they can’t get from online channels.

Clearly, there are opportunities for retailers that lean into their advantages and provide unique non-commodity products that appeal to their customers’ interests and values. Combined with the adoption of digital tools that allow them to operate as efficiently as large chains, this points to a bright future for independents.

Digital innovation provides a way forward

The majority (73%) of British consumers believe that independent retail businesses need to be open to digital innovation in order to thrive over the next 10 years.

Adopting digital operations alongside a physical presence is a proven strategy for boosting economic growth among independent retailers: of the small-to-medium-sized independent retailers surveyed who operate both in-store and digitally, 61% report that their business is thriving.

58% of independent retailers rejected the idea that technology was a threat to their business, while 92% agreed that offering consumers the ability to browse goods online would enhance the shopping experience. Meanwhile, 73% of consumers said that integrating some form of digital retail service would encourage them to shop at their local retailers more.

Within Faire’s own global customer base of 700,000 retailers, less than 20% had an online presence before the pandemic. By 2021, more than 70% took their businesses online through new websites, social media marketing, or live shopping on FaceTime. Faire’s early adopters also demonstrate how leveraging online tools for more efficient and effective sourcing, has helped retail businesses grow.  The number of independent retailers using Faire in the UK has now hit 45,000: four times the number of stores than the four largest supermarket chains combined.

Olivier Buffon, Head of International, Faire, said: 

“Small and independent businesses are the backbone of our economy and our local communities. What this report shows is that consumers turn to them to provide products that are quality, which reflect their values, and which are thoughtfully curated. Combine this with  the promise of digital innovation, both in how retailers source goods but also in offering digital ecommerce options to consumers, and it’s clear that despite some challenges, independent retail has a bright future. 

“Knowing that consumers and retailers alike are ready to embrace innovation gives us great hope for the future. We look forward to working alongside our customers, and the wider industry, to help retailers become more agile in tough economic times, so that they don’t just survive, but thrive.”

Helena Chow, owner, and co-founder of AIDA Shoreditch, an independent retailer and Faire customer, said:

“The cost-of-living crisis has made us all rethink the way we shop, but my hope is for people to see that buying cheaper products isn’t the way forward and that independent shops like ours can help them slow down their consumption by buying better quality goods.

“Through Faire, we discover and connect with like-minded businesses producing unique and beautiful products without the need to attend expensive trade shows. It has helped us to stay agile as we continue to navigate the huge challenges currently facing independent retail and has helped us feel more confident about our future.”

Other notable findings in the research include:

  • More than half (58%) of consumers expect poor economic growth on their local high street
  • One fifth (20%) of consumers are cutting back on shopping with independent retailers as a result of the cost of living crisis

Faire commissioned the research to gain a better understanding of the issues facing independent brick-and-mortar retailers today, and to better support them with the tools and technology they need to navigate the challenges they face, transition into the digital economy, and eliminate the costs traditionally incurred by doing business online. 

To date, Faire has helped more than 700,000 independent retailers discover and access products from 100,000 independent brands. The company absorbs the costs of returned or unwanted goods on an independent retailer’s first order with a brand to give them the freedom to try out new stock. Faire also provides its customers with digital capabilities including data and trends monitoring and customer experience curation, as well as additional touchpoints with potential partners via digital trade shows. 

Research methodology 

The research was conducted by Opinium Research via two online surveys between 30/01/2023 and 08/01/2023 . The two samples included one sample of 100 Independent retailers (<50 employees) and one sample of 2,000 UK adults nationally representative of the UK population.

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