What are the differences between the UK and US retail?
As the whole world had to shift in 2020, retail was one of the industries hit the hardest, retailers have had to adapt to online selling and a number of lockdowns but what is happening across the pond?
My Let’s talk shop podcast returned this April and the first episode was a very special one as I had the opportunity to have a ‘virtual roundtable’ conversation with Minna Khounlo-Sithep and Jacqueline Snyder, the combined force behind The Product Boss Podcast. If you haven’t listened to the podcast I highly recommend it, they have such a wealth of knowledge and have grown a wonderful community of high achieving product-based small business owners.
During my chat with Minna and Jacqueline, we discussed how the UK and the US have dealt with the last year within retail and diversity.
It’s always been important to shop small but during the pandemic support for local independent businesses has increased enormously.
In the UK I would describe this shift as a bit of a small business revolution, product businesses who mainly sold to shops all of a sudden had online thriving businesses and a whole new customer base. Customers suddenly realised we were going to be stuck inside for a while so turned to online independent stores which gave them a huge boost.
The same was to be said for the US market, after the initial fear of being shut down customers who were sitting at home bored started to look for things to buy online to keep them occupied. Sales of gym equipment and office furniture soared and everybody started to realise they had to shop smart and find alternatives to the big stores as they were selling out quickly of the things everybody wanted.
I’m always a cheerleader for showing up online and being present and during the pandemic, this was a crucial part of being seen without having a physical store.
Both in the UK and the US, business owners had to be imaginative on social media. Showing your face and products is so important and the pandemic forced people online. We have all seen Instagram stories, shop tours and behind the scenes content being used and business owners eventually found this way of selling much easier.
Diversity in retail
One thing that was very interesting to talk about in our conversation was retail and the shift towards social change being done through purchasing power. A great example of this is the Stop Asian Hate campaign. When the pandemic first started especially in the US terms such as China Virus and Kung Flu were being used in a negative way but in reality, they were planting a seed to help business owners rethink who they are and how they can help in their own ways by using their voice.
The pandemic may have kept us apart but diversity issues actually helped to unify small businesses as well which can only be a positive thing. Before the pandemic, we may have all shopped out of convenience but now how many of you stop to research the brand and the story before making a purchasing decision?
Since Black Lives Matter It has been seen in both the UK and US that businesses want to support and shout about Black-owned businesses and black voices and this has also caused a shift in purchasing power which is a beautiful thing to have come from a negative situation.
Female run businesses
It’s interesting to hear about female-owned businesses in the US. My audience is primarily women and I know that social media provides an amazing community but outside of this, what support is there for this minority?
In the US there is an old stat that reads only 2% of female-owned businesses make it past a million dollars which is something that Jacqueline and Minna want to change.
An interesting stat that I heard during lockdown was that 73 product businesses start in the UK every single day at the moment, which is amazing and I’m sure most of them are female-led!
Another interesting topic that came up during our conversation was the gender wage gap and how it is also so similar between the UK and the US. It can be hard to be taken seriously as a woman in business still, and I've heard from various clients whose husbands think that their wives business is just a hobby.
This seems to be the same attitude across the pond and when a woman starts a business it’s seen as a ‘nice hobby’ whereas when a man starts a business from home it’s a huge achievement which is a real shame and definitely needs to change globally.
A key thing from this conversation was that women need to support women, we should raise each other up and you are very courageous to start your own business in the first place so let’s keep talking and make a change!
The difference between selling in America and selling in the UK.
In the UK we are known as reserved maybe introverted salespeople whereas in America it’s very much about building your own dream and shouting about it.
What we can learn from the US is that the key to selling is to give value and then sell, not give value then sell. It should be a one-step process and you should remember that people want to support you and be more thoughtful with their money.
The UK attitude towards selling can sometimes come across as ‘Don’t show anyone you are selling’ and I’d love to see business owners become more open about their products.
This also applies to wholesale as when you approach stockists your main goal should be to show them why they need your products, why their customers need your products and how you can help each other.
The Future of Retail
As we continue to have these conversations about diversity and supporting independent businesses what does the future of retail look like?
Awareness is a huge contributor to how retail will look in the future, we need to keep talking about things we are passionate about and work together to keep the momentum going and take care of each other.
In the UK the large retailers haven’t done as well as the small shops during the pandemic and I think they have a lot to learn when it comes to being agile and adaptive in the future.
In the US the press has caught onto the ‘shop small’ message as well and they now feature small businesses on morning shows and include them when talking about trends which is an amazing shift and is hopefully here to stay.
Another change in retail is the supply chain and its knock-on effects. Production slowed down during the pandemic which globally meant that retailers had less stock and therefore couldn’t offer the huge sales or discounts we are all used to. Once the discounts disappeared it was clear to see that customers will actually pay for a product they really want without thinking about a discount. This helps small businesses as they are now on an even playing field with the bigger brands and as people shift towards shopping consciously they will start to notice the value of buying from a small business versus a maybe non-sustainable bigger business.
Top Tips and Summary
One key thing I took away from this conversation is that this is your moment and why not own the fact that you are a business owner? All eyes are on small businesses right now so make the most of it. Show up, be confident and be proud of what you do!