Local loyalty

The pandemic has led to more people shopping locally a trend that looks set to continue. How has this trend impacted you or your business?

high street animation
Getty/Oleksandr Pupko

When consuming news this week, the pandemic, national lockdown restrictions and what we (and others) were doing on 20 May 2020 has been front and centre.

It has, on more than one occasion, led to my mind wandering back to those early days of the pandemic: from queuing outside supermarkets for essentials, to the birth of my first child. As a result of the latter, my memory of most of April through to June 2020 is hazy as we remained inside, with no visits or introductions with family until well into the summer months.

However, as we found our feet and when restrictions allowed, we ventured down local streets and paths, staying much closer to home than we did previously, to shop on our small, local High Street. The frequency at which we used our local High Street, in particular a small cafe for much needed takeaway coffee and pastries, means that even today when I pop by, the owner knows us by name and regularly comments on how much Sam has grown (thank you The Collective).

While we are still living in a pandemic, things have changed a lot since the first lockdown. However, what has not changed is our support of our local High Street. Of course, with the doors of many more outlets now open, I have since found a new local hairdressers, greeting cards shop and, of course, an optometry practice, where I took my son for his first eye examination shortly before Christmas (more on that another time).

I am not alone in my continued support of my local High Street. The concept of shopping locally is indeed a positive to come out of the pandemic. As is the renewed sense of community spirit linked to this. And it doesn’t look like this support will wane in the near future.

The pandemic has altered shoppers’ mindsets – much data released in late 2020 and throughout 2021 has demonstrated that. A survey by the Data and Marketing Association (DMA), published in late 2021, found that 58% of respondents are still interested in supporting local businesses when making buying decisions. And it is good experiences and a sense of community that keeps people returning (it certainly does for me).

Late last year, OT hosted a virtual Roundtable discussion in partnership with the Hakim Group on the future of independent optometry. During the hour and a half discussion, the five practice owners who took part shared their views on what independent optometry might look like by 2030, covering the role that technology, education, sustainability, upskilling and the changing retail landscape will play in this.

A comment that I recall from one practice owner regarding the retail landscape, as he reflected on the last 18 months, was how new patients would come in and ask how long the practice had been there. In fact, it has been in the same location for over a decade. These patients, like myself, were choosing to use their local High Street in a way they did not pre-pandemic.

Over the last six months, I have also had the pleasure of talking to some optometrists-come new business owners who have opened practices since 2020. When talking to them, conversation has always included the concept of shopping locally and how consumers are using their local High Streets more now than ever before. In fact, most have referenced this as a main reason for choosing to open during somewhat uncertain times. (You can read through some of our recent Becoming a business owner features online).

In an OT edition later this year, we will be exploring optometry on the High Street – the challenges and opportunities there are, the changes in eye care delivery models emerging, and what businesses can learn from each other.

If you are a practice owner with another optometry practice close by – perhaps they are on the same High Street or maybe they are even your next-door-neighbour – please do get in touch to share your experiences. Similarly, we are interested in hearing about any benefits you have found through relationships with other business owners on your High Street, outside of optometry. Please email our Newsdesk.