Amazon has opened the first of a 10 planned “clicks and mortar” physical stores across the UK, today opening the doors of a shop in St. Mary’s Gate, Manchester that will carry products from primarily local businesses.
Over 100 small businesses will have the opportunity to sell products in the 10 stores during the course of the year-long pilot. Further pop-up shops are expected to follow in Wales, Scotland and the Midlands.
Manchester-based SwiftyScooters, which manufactures its own foldable kick-scooters, along with leather luggage manufacturer Torro Cases were among the companies showcasing their wares in the store.
Torro co-founders William and Michael Farnsworth commented in a release that: “Clicks and Mortar feels like a fresh route for hungry new entrepreneurs to reach a wider audience by combining the power of online shopping whilst enabling customers to touch and feel our products.”
Some 5,833 shops shut their doors in the UK in 2018, with internet retailers like Amazon largely blamed for the decline. The company disputes the caricature of it as a High Street killer: “Since opening its stores to smaller, independent sellers nearly 20 years ago, Amazon has been a growth engine for millions of small businesses around the world,” it argues.
“In 2000, 2 per cent of physical gross merchandise sales on Amazon came from third-party businesses. By 2018 this increased to 58 per cent, following years of heavy investment in technology, infrastructure and selling tools to help them grow their business. Tens of thousands UK-based small businesses now sell their products on Amazon’s global sites, helping to support more than 80,000 UK jobs and achieving £2.5bn in export sales in 2018 alone.
A recent parliamentary report on retail in the UK urged local businesses to offer a better experience, click-and-collect offerings with more flexible opening hours and greater range, while acknowledging the pressure from high business rates, rent, and declining footfall as out-of-town shopping centres and online shopping hit bricks and mortar.
Amazon Clicks and Mortar
In order to deliver the project, Amazon is working with Enterprise Nations, an SME business network, that aims to help people capitalise on their product ideas and services through a network of advisors and hosted events.
Amazon and its business partners in this endeavour will find no shortage of physical stores in prime High Street locations, as the British Retail Consortium noted last month that one in ten shops in town centres across the UK are vacant.
Commenting on rising vacancies throughout last year Helen Dickinson Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium commented that: “The vacancy rate is at a 15-month high, with many brands disappearing from the high street, and many more struggling under the cumulative burden of public policy costs.”
“With retail becoming more digital, physical shopping locations are working to reinvent themselves as places people go for days-out rather than just for day to day purchases,” Dickinson noted.
During the course of the year-long Amazon project, an independent researcher is engaging with the project so a detailed analysis of the pilot can be submitted to the UK Government in case new insights can be obtained in how to turn the UK’s High Streets around. As part of the Clicks and Mortar and businesses initiative Amazon has also launched a £1 million Apprenticeship fund that medium sized business can tap into it to help upskill its workforce and create new digital marketing and administration roles.
A report from the House of Commons that looked at what parliamentarians believe the High Streets and town centres of 2030 will look like, noted that: “High streets and town centres need urgently to adapt, transform and find a new focus in order to survive”
“We are convinced that high streets and town centres will survive, and thrive, in 2030 if they adapt, becoming activity-based community gathering places where retail is a smaller part of a wider range of uses and activities. Green space, leisure, arts and culture and health and social care services must combine with housing to create a space that is the “intersection of human life and activity” based primarily on social interactions rather than financial transactions.”