Retailers in Diss worry about future for high street amidst post-pandemic plight and rise in online shopping
Retailers in Diss have warned that they face an existential threat as they find themselves up against the growing popularity of online shopping.
Some high street shops have seen their footfall halve since the pandemic began – and have taken the step of issuing a plea for people to think before buying online.
Helen Beeching, who runs gift shop Our Slice of Country Life, in Park Road, said many businesses were looking at pulling down the shutters for good following a particularly quiet winter.
“People are getting worried,” said the 42-year-old. “They are comparing it to recent years and they are concerned – this is not just the Christmas eek that a lot of people go through.
“Diss has got a wealth of businesses but most people are feeling the pinch.
“I know that some businesses are now looking at when their contracts will end because of the drop in footfall. Some are looking to go online, some are looking to shut completely – it’s not great.
“None of us have big bank accounts to fall back on. You can only go on for so long before it’s an awful lot of work for no money.”
Alison Southernwood, who runs boutique store Just a Label, in St Nicholas Street, echoed this sentiment.
“The footfall is so low and trading is down by under half since Covid,” she said.
“I understand people’s shopping habits have changed and a lot more people shop online – but, unless something changes, I’m not sure how the high street will survive.”
Mrs Beeching warned that the problems facing existing shops also had the potential to deter future investment in the town.
“If everyone shops online, then new shops won’t open,” she said. “If they see shops shutting, they’ll think ‘that’s a bad investment’.
“Everyone likes to live in a town were there’s a good range of shops and cafés – if the town is doing well and people are shopping locally, then the whole town thrives.”
Mrs Southernwood added: “I don’t have all the answers on how we can change things but something needs to change or we will not make it.”
Problems facing high street stores in Diss long pre-date the pandemic; year-on-year, growing numbers of shoppers have favoured spending their money in Norwich and Ipswich over shopping locally.
However, Sue Kiddie, who runs boutique store Tatters, in Mere Street, said the pandemic had gone some way to reversing that trend.
“A lot of my customers have said they don’t want to go into the big towns because of Covid,” she said.
“They feel much more comfortable in Diss.”
Mrs Kiddie added that, while the rise in online shopping had certainly made an impact, it was far from a death knell for the high street.
“It’s been a difficult three years but it’s going a lot better than we could have hoped for,” she said.
“It’s much better than it’s been over the past few years.
“We’ve had a good Christmas and we have a lot of customers who have been loyal and have come back.
“I think it’s as good as we are going to get. That’s not to say it couldn’t be better, but we’re up against the internet and nothing is going to change that.”