UK Retailers are demanding cuts in business rates to stem the tide of vacant shops on high streets. The heads of over 50 retail brands – including Boots and Asda – have sent a letter to the government urging urgent changes in tax, to bolster up bricks and mortar outlets.

Meanwhile, a multitude of ground-level initiatives are encouraging people to “shop local”. Some would argue that the solution to saving town centres and village stores is more about changing consumer attitudes than finding financial relief for shop owners.

Can shoppers be redirected?

Think globally but act locally campaigning has been around for some years.

However, the work to encourage consumers to invest in their own communities by spending in the high street has not always been successful.

A cartoon recently appeared in a national newspaper showing a headline “Empty shops hit four year high” on a closed down store. One observer is saying: “That’s so sad. I used to love going in there to look at things before I bought them on the internet.”

It sums up one of the biggest problems with buy-local campaigns; shifting culture and spending in the face of bargain hunting online can be an uphill struggle!

Getting it right on ‘buy local’

That’s not to say all grassroots initiatives fail. Some of the most successful have steered away from competing head-on with internet shopping, or even “guilt-tripping” consumers with figures on such realities as community job losses.

Instead, local retail MDs, representatives of big brands and owner-managers of small independents have joined forces with eateries and other establishments, to make local high streets more attractive, and a complete “experience”.

Examples include Chorlton, in Great Manchester, which has blended independent ethos with positive community spirit to buck the trend and York’s transformed and thriving Bishopthorpe Road.

National campaigning

These pockets of high street resurgence are also benefitting from UK-wide initiatives to ‘big up’ traditional shopping expeditions.

Small Business Saturday on 7th December is gaining an increasing amount of support each year, showing the power of joint efforts to change buying habits.

The British Independent Retailers Association works year-round to promote the benefits of being able to touch and feel retail goods – and get good advice – before purchasing.

Is this same emphasis on authentic local shopping “experiences” beginning to dictate the direction of major brands too? Waterstones chief James Daunt, who was also recently appointed as Barnes & Noble’s new chief executive, has been quoted as saying he wants the chain’s individual stores to have more independence, and opportunities to “personalise” what they offer to their local communities.

Refreshing high street personae and changing consumer attitudes – with meaningful ‘shop local’ initiatives – could prove a potent remedy, even if the chancellor does not bow to calls for tax reforms.