Ross-shire businesses count on customer loyalty as online shopping takes its toll over lockdown
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ROSS businesses battered by the coronavirus crisis are now counting on customers wooed by online shopping during lockdown to show some loyalty to their high streets.
The appeal came as many businesses this week tentatively opened their doors to customers for the first time following the second national lockdown.
of Small Business’ Highlands and Islands development manager, David Richardson, said: "Over the past year the lockdowns have forced people to resort to new ways of buying goods, and the surge to online shopping has been well publicised. But the threat is not just from the internet. Many large stores have continued trading while smaller ones selling similar goods couldn’t, and there’s a threat from that direction too.
“If we want communities like Dingwall to have bustling high streets that people enjoy visiting to buy goods and services and to meet up socially – strong and vibrant beating hearts – we must help our shops win customers back from the likes of Amazon by keeping our trade local. We should also do whatever we can to support our local hospitality businesses, eating out to help out, at least until tourism picks up once more. The last thing Ross-shire needs is for businesses that have survived the pandemic to fail just as things start to improve."
Amazon's profits soared during lockdown with 175,000 new warehouse and delivery workers taken on to meet demand.
Dingwall and Seaforth councillor Angela Maclean said local shops like the Country Garden had adapted to include new products to help lockdown shoppers and teamed up with other businesses to help each other out.
Many had not qualified for Scottish Government grants and some had lost staff. She added: "What I have noticed while out delivering during the election is just how many doors have stickers to say drop off any parcels around the back of the house or next door. It shows that online shopping has really taken off during the pandemic and we can only hope people stop purchasing online and return to their High Street."
She said some much-loved local independent businesses "have served our families for generations and they have helped us through the good times and the bad". She said: "Shopping isn’t just about buying a product online it’s about the interaction with others and catching up on the craic. I would encourage everyone to check out what’s on offer on our High Street and shop local.”
Appreciation of local support was echoed by Alchemist Gallery owner Hazel Gordon who also pointed out smaller businesses were "coming from behind" after being excluded from offering click and collect services larger competitors could.
Sean Kennedy has repopened The Mallard bar but remains highly dependent on the weather while serving customers outdoors. It will be May 17 – all being well – before customers can be invited inside.
He said: "The Mallard has been an important live music venue and, of course, we have missed a whole football season, which was very important to us. It's going to be a day by day, step by step venture. I'm glad to be back though and have got so much admiration for my staff who have stood by me. Fingers crossed the gy upstairs blesses us with some decent weather!"
Dingwall councillor Graham MacKenzie said: "I hope that the people of Dingwall will continue to shop locally have the confidence to come out and shop in a safe and secure environment."
He said:"It was a pity that the first day of trading was faced with a miserable day after last week’s great weather but as time goes on I am sure that Dingwall will not just recover but prosper and grow."