11 Aug 2011
The riots that started this week in London quickly spread to other parts of the country, including Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester.
Independent businesses as well as large chains such as Foot Asylum, Miss Selfridge, JD Sports and Sainsbury’s were targeted by rioters and looters, seemingly opportunists taking advantage of the stretched police presence.
Shops and cars were burned, windows were smashed and streets were overrun as police tried to keep up with events on the ground.
The damage in local communities will cost tens of thousands of pounds to repair. Even if costs are covered by insurance, future premiums are likely to escalate – putting businesses under greater pressure. Staff costs for periods of closure and loss of earnings as well as stock replenishment is likely to have a lasting effect.
All of this signals another unfortunate blow for the UK high street. As well as the cost of recovery, the concern is that shoppers will choose to stay away from busy town centres through fear of further incident.
For internet retailers, though, this is likely to present an opportunity. With panic on the streets and stores damaged, will more people turn to online shopping? It seems obvious that online sales during this time will benefit from the unrest. People who didn’t rely on internet shopping before are likely to try it – shopping from the safety and comfort of their homes, whilst those who used it already will be further encouraged to continue doing so.
Small businesses would now be wise to develop their online shop windows as well as repairing their physical ones. If ever the concept of marketing through social media needed proving, its power has been demonstrated to great effect throughout the riots. People are now using sites like Twitter and Facebook to positive effect to report those involved and spread updates in real time.
For example, more than 1,000 people turned up for a clean-up operation in Manchester, organised through Twitter overnight.
Business owners can benefit from the power of social media as part of their overall online strategy, in order to make the best of this situation. Developing e-commerce websites will also be critical in capitalising on market share. Tools to enhance customer experience, like Webcelerator, could be implemented to gain advantage.
I truly hope that this situation does not signal the final blow for our high streets, but would encourage businesses of all sizes to evaluate their websites to ensure they are ready to capitalise on the potential rise in online sales as the silver lining at this chaotic and distressing time.