Research we are revealing today shows that significant numbers of independent retailers fear for their future as the battle for footfall on the UK high street takes its toll. Two thirds (65%) report that in the last 12 months, the number of customers passing through their shop doors has fallen or remained static, whilst 16% now fear they may go under during 2013 unless sales improve.

More than half (51%) of those we polled reported that generating consumer awareness is one of their biggest challenges, painting a picture of the difficulties independents face in getting customers through the door.

To help small British retailers overcome these challenges, we are announcing today we are making Priority Moments for Independent Businesses available to all of the estimated quarter of a million* local independent retailers in Britain, currently at absolutely no cost, regardless of whether they are O2 customers or not.

The findings highlight major obstacles facing independent businesses, almost a third (31%) acknowledge that consumers simply aren’t aware of the benefits of choosing to shop locally with them – with reasons including an insufficient marketing budget (38%) and a lack of time or capability to make more of these benefits (30%).The challenges and concerns voiced by small retailers are also echoed by consumers. When asked, 18% could not even name an independent retailer near their home.

But our findings also reveal a clear opportunity for these small businesses to boost consumer awareness and play more effectively to their strengths. There remains a strong core of support amongst consumers for their local stores, with almost a quarter (24%) visiting independent shops once a week.

The challenge these businesses now face is how to make more from the qualities that consumers say are the top reasons to visit their local stores – convenience (45%), their importance in the local community (40%), the personal service (27%) and the unique experience (31%) they offer.

By rolling Priority Moments for Independent Businesses out across the country, we will connect independent retailers with customers in a new, digitally-enabled way by allowing them to create offers which consumers can access through a location based mobile application – in turn, encouraging customers to rediscover the benefits of shopping with local independents.

The British Independent Retailers Association is supporting us in our drive to support British businesses in their digital growth. Experts from BIRA warn that that unless more is done to support independent businesses, these challenges threaten to undermine a vitally important sector of the economy.

Michael Weedon, Deputy Chief Executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said: “Footfall is falling, draining the vitality of our towns and making life increasingly hard for independents. There are over a quarter of a million small retail businesses in Great Britain and while consumers continue to love them, they do not see them as clearly as they do the big multiples with the big national brands.

There is an opportunity, though, with the massive uptake of smartphones in this country – well over half of all adults now have one in their pocket or handbag – and the ability to communicate directly with local customers can provide a route to renewed vitality for small businesses.

But, being small, they lack technical expertise, resources and, in many cases, confidence in taking advantage of new technologies. The opening of Priority Moments to small businesses, with an easy to use administrative system creates a huge opportunity for independents, made easy with a no-cost model and driven by the massive power and expertise of O2.”

Ben Dowd, Director of Business at O2 commented: “Against the backdrop of one of the toughest economic periods ever seen on the UK high street, we know that times can feel particularly tough for small business owners, who often lack the time and resources to make the most of their marketing, particularly in the fast evolving digital world. We believe that big businesses can play a key role in helping smaller players reach their full potential. Our network is our greatest asset and digital is what we do best – so with the launch of this new service, we hope to apply two of our biggest strengths to help some of these small businesses get a leg up into the world of digital marketing.

He continued: “As a result, we can help consumers rediscover the hidden gems in their community. At the same time, by opening up the world of mobile to some of the UK’s smallest, most exciting independent businesses, we can help them compete with the marketing fire power of much bigger more established brands and in doing so, help them boost footfall and increase profitability.”

Our Priority Moments service, which includes no charge from us, provides small businesses with complete control and flexibility over the offers and experiences they create. The easy to access portal offers step-by-step guidance and comprehensive support to ensure peace of mind for small businesses unfamiliar with digital marketing.

Priority Moments will enable small companies to harness the power of digital, mobile and location-based technologies to reach our 23 million-strong customer network, and put their brand on the map directly with thousands of potential new customers.

Since the launch of Priority Moments in July 2011, our 23 million customers have saved an estimated £23m thanks to over 4,400 offers from over 1,000 brands.

We are launching Priority Moments for Independent Businesses with a £2.5m through the line advertising campaign which is being supported by experiential activity in Manchester city centre on the 27th and 28th October.

Journalists can contact the Virgin Media O2 press office on: 01753 565656
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