/ Money, Shopping

Will higher prices continue to keep independent shops down?

Mary Portas launched her report on the state of Britain’s high streets with a bang this week. Its aims are admirable, but how can local shops compete with big chains when price continues to be so important for shoppers?

The Portas Review lays out a number of reasons why the high street and local shops are in decline – shoppers choosing convenience over community, the development of shopping malls into entertainment destinations, and the growth in online shopping.

All of these are valid points, but I think the biggest reason for this decline is that high street and local shops just can’t compete on price.

Swayed by low prices

Our research has consistently found that while price is by no means the only factor in where people decide to shop, it certainly is the biggest one. In our most recent high street shops survey, 47% of respondents named price as the most important factor in deciding where to purchase from.

Which shops are offering the lowest prices? Not independents – they were only rated among the cheapest shops in one of the nine categories (toiletries) in our shops survey. The shops that people rated as the cheapest were mainly chains like Ikea, Richer Sounds, Argos and the ‘big four’ supermarkets – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons.

If those chains are located out of town, they have even more scope to offer lower prices, thanks to lower rental costs. So when bigger stores mean lower prices, and lower prices are what consumers want, what chance do high street local independents have?

I don’t say all this to knock local shops. I’m always dismayed when I see a local shop close down, especially if it’s replaced by another supermarket. I understand the reasons why they find it difficult to compete on price with big chains.

But, while I do use local shops and consider them an important part of the neighbourhood, the fact remains that I do most of my food shopping in Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Morrisons and rely on other large chains for non-food. And as long as they’re cheaper than the independent alternatives, that will probably continue.

Support your local shops – if you can afford it

We want to see good local businesses succeed, which is why we set up Which? Local, a fantastic service to find local traders and shops for Which? members. I’ve personally used it to find a wide range of local services including a chocolatier, a butcher, and a baker (though not a candlestick maker) – and all have been excellent.

The satisfaction I get when I use a good local business always makes me think I should use my local independent shops more – but then those good intentions fade and I’m back in Tesco a few days later, lured in by the low prices.

Do you go out of your way to visit local independent shops? And how much of a factor is price in deciding where to shop?


A local business is a business just like any other business and if they
can’t compete with supermarkets on price, tough on them…. for me it’s
always lower prices, variety and choice that propel me there
every time except as to fruit and veg.

I notice in my neighbourhood those who patronise local shops
for groceries are mostly, but by no means exclusively, confined
to those where getting to supermarkets on the high street
is a logistical problem as without a car for example, such
as the elderly, infirm and women with young child(ren). They
pay for convenience in terms of a higher price charged that is
really quite significant if not substantial in my observations,
even on common everyday items.

I for one haven’t been shopping in my local town, since the council turned all the local side roads into pay and display. I pay council tax yet due to their miss managing of budgets they feel the need to make even more money from me. And I’m sure that business rates don’t help the local stores either.

And for the people who want to defend their council there was no need for them to have a shiny new office or award themselves such big pay rises ( although I am talking of the past several years ).

And yes price does matter too.