It's not supermarkets, other independents, or Halfords, so what could it be?

Retail comment: What do independent stores fear most of all?

Thanks to the fight for space that happens as BikeBiz nears press date each month, I have in my possession a few yet-to-be-published stats, taken from our recent Retail Survey, on what the independent trade sees as the most direct threats to business going forwards.

The Forum may have us believe that B&Q selling a few bikes over Christmas is a sign of tougher times to come and that now might be a good time to roll over and accept defeat – it’s not. Not unless you sell bicycle shaped objects, anyway.

Sure, independent stores have stiffer competition with the increased presence of supermarkets and the rapid growth of chain stores, but of the 95 independents who shared their views with us at the close of 2010, 34.1 per cent stated their main competition concern came from online-only retailers. Compare that to just 2.2 per cent fearing local independent stores and Halfords, as well as a further minority of 4.4 per cent cautious over the presence of supermarkets and you begin to see how big a threat online giants present to retail. But why?

For starters, Forrester Research has forecast that by 2014, 53 per cent of all retail sales will be influenced by the web. If you don’t sell online, now’s the time to catch up, you’d think.

However, linking to our questions on competition, we asked the precise concerns of those on the front line, to which competition from grey imports, sometimes discounted close to trade cost on the web, was the number one reason for feelings of doom and gloom. It’s a problem that’s frequently causing suppliers to lose retail custom, yet a difficult one to police if a brand’s manufacturers don’t play ball.

Though a quick search of the most-blamed culprits of ‘price shagging’ turned up surprisingly few obvious results, it seems for the independent store, online retail is only worthwhile if stock is coming from strictly controlled sources. The challenge for the independent here is not only to spot the current model year deals as soon as they appear, but also to ensure that suppliers are quick to investigate the source of the offending product as soon as it appears. Those who say “there’s nothing we can do” will without doubt quickly lose custom.

Nearly half who responded to our survey also stated poor stock levels on key lines to be a significant challenge to business, especially during peak periods. Plenty to take into account before next year’s stock decisions then?

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