Fifers have been urged to dig deep and support their flagging town centres during the last-minute Christmas rush – despite online shopping reaching record levels.
For the first time, online purchases accounted for more than a fifth of all retail sales in November 2018 according to the Office for National Statistics, with 21.5% of purchases made at the click of a button.
Alan Mitchell, chief executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce, said people would always need and use local shops, but High Street retailers would have to raise their game.
“Even in times when online retail is clearly growing, there is still evidence that a lot of people, even those who do shopping online, still enjoy the actual physical experience of visiting the shops and getting the whole experience,” he said.
Mr Mitchell said attractive shop fronts and layouts, and offering the right product at the right price, were key to enticing customers to spend in town centres.
“There are long term issues that need to be addressed in terms of the mix of businesses located in the high street, and long term work that needs to be done about getting more people living in the high street and not just going there to shop,” he said.
“A lot of work needs to be done about policies in terms of parking charges.
“What can be addressed this Christmas is what independent retailers can do to create a fantastic environment for their business. Retailers have to offer customers what customers want, and that’s a special experience when they visit a shop.”
This year has seen a continuing trend of high street stores making way for empty, boarded up shop units.
Kirkcaldy, which had already lost its town centre Tesco and BHS stores, saw the closure of Semichem and Next. The Marks and Spencer in High Street, which has been trading in the same location for 80 years, will also close in February next year.
However, there have been success stories, including Newport-on-Tay which scooped a Scotland’s Rising Star High Street award.
Becky Myles, who chairs Newport-on-Tay Traders Association, said the village’s success had partly been down to elevating the shopping experience.
She said: “Many shops offer unique products, with quite a lot created by local artists, offering something you don’t get anywhere else.
“If you’re looking for a unique gift that’s the place to find it, and quite often you get to meet the maker, the person who has designed or made it.
“That makes a really personal shopping experience.”
Labour councillor Altany Craik, convener of Fife Council’s economy, tourism, strategic planning and transportation committee, encouraged people to support local shops this festive season.
He said: “I would urge everyone to cut their stress levels this Christmas and visit their local high street to pick up those things that you can’t get anywhere else.”