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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Rice

Recovery packages for our local high street

The Blue Bermondsey BID response to Covid19 and boosting retail business income during lockdown

COVID-19 has shaken businesses out of complacency but also given rise to many opportunities for long-term growth provided local businesses are bold enough to adapt. With the sudden loss of existing customers, many have been forced to react quickly to their new situation and find new routes to market. This has led to a fast-tracking of existing trends, especially the growth in online shopping by at least 3 years. This is no more evident than in South Bermondsey High Street, home to The Bermondsey Blue BID and its 96 High Street members.

The Brief

On 17th March 2020, we began a project to support 10 businesses to create a business plan, better improve their in-store merchandising and help them to promote their business better. i.e business as usual. Little were we to know that a week later, the whole country would go into lockdown and many businesses be forced to close.

The New Challenge

Instead of stopping the project, we adapted quickly and within two days had set up a peer-to-peer support group via Whatsapp to provide local businesses with a support network. Businesses had been affected differently by the crisis and we adapted our advice accordingly from customer communication, applying for grants and loans to helping businesses go online.

Three months later and we have seen some amazing innovation:

Online Marketing

Driven by a growth in online retail by 35%, businesses have finally realised that their online shop window is just as important as their physical shop. We conducted a social media survey that showed that only 38% of businesses have their own website. Only 50% of businesses check their Google map listing which is free. Businesses who check tend to be food businesses who check their online delivery reviews. Very few businesses encourage customers to leave a review despite this being the most powerful way to search for a brand.

62% say they do not use social media with Instagram and Facebook being the most popular. Two months later and five businesses have set up Instagram pages and four businesses have committed to setting up a simple website page.

Businesses are starting to realise that customers search online and that it is a cheap and effective way of promoting what is different about their business. The biggest help they need is what content to use and the importance of photos when posting an article.

In response to the survey, The Bermondsey Blue BID set up a directory from scratch which allows local residents to search for services online and read more about what makes the business different. We uncovered stories of provenance, customer service, depth of ranges and expertise that would never have been evident from the in-store offer.

Online Food Delivery

Growth has been exponential driven by the need to get food to vulnerable people and to offer an alternative business model for restaurants and cafes forced to close. Government allowed the switch to takeaway immediately after the announcement to close indoor seating which has given food businesses a new channel to market. Many local cafes and restaurants would rely on passing footfall. When this stopped overnight, there was a surge in demand to join food delivery platforms such as Deliveroo and UberEats from local cafes and restaurants who would never have considered this before.

Pop in Café is a traditional family café serving homemade dishes to local customers. We gave them the confidence to open as a takeaway which had previously only been a very small part of their turnover. They joined three delivery platforms and have seen a surge in demand for their food from new customers. Not only are these new customers loving home-cooked food which is so rare to find on delivery platforms but they were also prepared to feed their families so the average basket spend grew by over 30%.

  • They are now serving 70 customers a day across the three platforms of which 37 are new. They are benefitting from the excellent marketing channel that these online delivery platforms provide.

  • They now know where their customers are coming from.

  • They know when they are serving new customers and they also get reviews which help them grow their business.

  • They are currently 4.8 which is one of the highest rated businesses locally.

  • Following comments on the types of packaging they were using, they have now switched to sustainable sources, something they would never have done.

Home Delivery

Businesses wanted to be able to deliver to local customers. The BID had been reviewing a cargo bike launch for over 6 months but COVID accelerated the launch to just two weeks after lockdown. We supported a local cargo bike company who had lost all of his foodservice customers overnight to start offering a free two-hour slot to local businesses every day.

We recommended solutions for taking payment over the phone using izettle or sumup which had the advantage of capturing customer email addresses.

Over the 9-week trial, total delivered sales were £13,500. The service made 324 deliveries from four main businesses. The pharmacy was able to deliver life-saving medicine to patients at home. The Afro- Caribbean specialist has been able to deliver in bulk to local residents when they would previously have bought smaller quantities on foot. The local catering company has been able to set up a direct business by benefitting from the free charge.

A total of 13 businesses have signed up and now see this as key to their future growth.

This is a recovery package for local High Street businesses and offers them the future proof that they need.

Find out more about Blue Bermondsey here


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