A wet and windswept Saturday didn’t keep the shoppers away from East Grinstead high street. The Christmas tree lights went on as the cue for another Christmas countdown as shoppers hit the historic high street, looking for gifts for their loved ones.
Lucy and I lent support to the local radio station 107 Meridian who were broadcasting from the high street, one of more than 50 events covered by the outside broadcast team this year. Supporting the weekly business show, Lucy and I spent the day walking the high street, interviewing local business owners and retailers, getting their take on the crucial Christmas shopping period - hearing how they were competing with online shopping, giving people a reason to come out and support their local high street. Whilst we conduct regular research on SME outlook, there is no substitute to speaking with and listening to real stories in person.
We spoke with a wide range of retailers; branch managers of national brands and new, innovative independents. Together they conveyed a spirit of optimism and purpose - and support for each other in making sure their local high street had a future as a keystone to community life.
Saturday was a nationwide day where there was a spotlight on people supporting local businesses. The elephant team has maintained a commitment to supporting local start-ups through the year as part of our Community Investment programme through our free small business advice days. Our final session for mid December was fully booked the day it was announced. Our extended work with small businesses through local radio outside office hours gives us a further opportunity to help local start-ups tell their story and reach new audiences.
Lucy and I completed our tour of the high street by 5pm. Cold and soaked, we reflected over a warming hot chocolate on a day when we had spoken with more than 20 retailers and completed a dozen in-store interviews for Monday’s business show.
What was also apparent from the day was how busy the High Street had been. Few signs of lingering austerity from shoppers out in force. Or maybe Christmas is different?
Tomorrow we will find out more, when we get new elephant research back from fieldwork that explores consumer budgeting plans for Christmas. Now in it’s fourth year, this annual tracking piece of elephant research has offered valuable insights on whether consumers are cutting back and looking to make savings so they don’t start the New Year with the financial hangover - or whether Christmas is the time when people enjoy the moment and worry about tomorrow tomorrow. Last year’s data showed a significant proportion of people were still clearing their credit card bill from the previous Christmas by the time the following year’s Christmas lights were turned on. Will things be different this December?
Tomorrow we will get an impression of what’s going on this Christmas in terms of consumer money plans - and discover some valuable clues on whether cut backs or credit cards are in the ascendancy this Christmas.