Independent Retailers Are a Better Bet for the Future

Michelle Gillen-Doobrajh, the owner of Tildie’s Toy Box in Philadelphia, believes it’s important for customers to see and hold and item – especially a toy – before they buy it.

National survey points to service, product expertise, and connection with local communities as distinct strengths for stores

A new national survey conducted by Advocates for Independent Business (AIB) finds that shifts in the retail sector are playing out differently for independents than they are for chains. Two-thirds of the independent retailers who responded to the survey report that their smaller size and greater understanding of their local markets make them more nimble than national chains and better positioned to respond to shifts in their sector.

The survey comes as national chains are declaring bankruptcy, malls are going dark, and e-commerce continues to grow. Headlines have started referring to a “historic tipping point” for American retail. Reporting on this issue, however, has focused almost exclusively on national chains.

This survey gathered data from more than 850 independent retailers in 49 U.S. states. Their responses yield valuable insight into how independent businesses are responding to the changing landscape, and about how their distinct attributes set them apart from retail chains and from Amazon.

“This research confirms our observations – that even in the face of intense competition from Amazon and other online retailers, independent retailers understand their competitive advantages and they are working to leverage them at a time when retail is going through significant changes,” said ASTRA President Kimberly Mosley.

Here are other highlights from the survey’s results.

  • 83 percent report that there have been chain store closures in their area that have left behind vacant spaces, and 17 percent describe the extent of these closures as “significant.”
  • A majority of survey respondents – 51 percent – report that they see opportunities for independents amidst widespread chain store closures.
  • While respondents believe that independents are better positioned to survive Amazon’s growth, 90 percent of them also report that Amazon is having a negative impact on their business.
  • Despite the ways that these shifts are poised to impact local economies, only 9 percent of survey respondents say that there has been “a lot” of discussion and coverage of the issue locally. Forty-three percent say that there’s been “very little” or “none.”

“These findings provide valuable insights for local officials assessing how best to sustain the economic vitality of their communities,” said Stacy Mitchell, co‐director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which conducted the survey on behalf of Advocates for Independent Business. “While many malls and chain stores are going dark, independent retailers are a better bet for the future. Many offer distinct attributes that customers can’t find at Amazon or most chain stores, and they have something more to offer their communities. For these small businesses to thrive though, officials need to do more to ensure they have a level playing field.”

Advocates for Independent Business is a coalition of 10 national trade associations and allied organizations that represent locally owned, independent businesses.


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