Call for Government to create a 'convenience tax' to use big name online retailers to help high street

An independent retailer in Doncaster has called on the Government to create a “convenience tax” to urge shoppers to use their local high streets.

Sunday, 6th December 2020, 5:45 am

Richard Smith, who owns The Shoe Room with wife Michelle said that high levels of customer service and quality products had allowed them to stay afloat during the lockdowns seen this year.

But he feared the pandemic had “accelerated the demise of the high street by five years or more”.

With 14 years of experience in retail under his belt, and three running The Shoe Room in Priory Walk, Mr Smith said more needed to be done to stop shoppers turning to big online retailers such as Amazon.

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Michelle and Richard Smith, owners of The Shoe Room, Priory Walk, Doncaster. Photo: James Hardisty

“We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve achieved, we work incredibly hard and we work seven days a week,” Mr Smith said.

“That’s what it’s all about, the quality of the product and the service we give is what drives us.

“We’re very fortunate, we never actually were closed, we work seven days a week, we never get up in the morning and say we don’t want to go to work, we enjoy what we do.”

Mr and Mrs Smith, who were previously business partners at The Shoehealer, missed the “hustle and bustle” of the physical store during the lockdown.

Michelle and Richard Smith, owners of The Shoe Room, Priory Walk, Doncaster. Photo: James Hardisty

But Mr Smith said: “We never stopped working when we closed the doors.

“The reality is we took the computer home from the shop and Michelle furloughed me but Fairfax and Favor [a luxury women’s brand stocked by the store], went crazy, for example,” he said.

And while he said he had anticipated a long closure, he said that the fact they had already paid for all of their stock up front and had their business in order got them through.

“I thought we can survive this, the shop is full of stock, we’ve got money in the bank,” he said.

Michelle and Richard Smith, owners of The Shoe Room, Priory Walk, Doncaster. Photo: James Hardisty

“But Michelle was busy all day every day and we actually coped really well, yes our turnover was down, but what we also did when we were closed, we called all our suppliers, whatever we have asked for and committed to for the new session, send it to us.

“In doing that it also allowed us to keep serving customers, lots of retailers cancelled orders or put them on hold, but people still wanted serving.”

However he added: “Let’s not dismiss how serious this is, it’s painful, but since reopening our turnover is up on the same week last year, I’m hearing things from friends in the same business and I’m hearing from those guys they are at 50 per cent and over up.

“Don’t get me wrong we are down on where we should be, but we are actually about the same as we were last year, which is phenomenal because the shop doors have been closed for four months.”

But looking to the future, he warned: “I think Covid has accelerated the demise of the high street by five years of more.

“There will be a number of people who have been forced to shop online and those people might have enjoyed the convenience of shopping online, and that is the single biggest issue for the high street.”

But he said the solution was not to tax big retailers such as Amazon, as that would not impact the preference of the shopper.

Instead, he suggested that if shoppers were making purchases online they should have an extra levy added to their basket.

He said: “We need a convenience tax, a new tax.

“It would be a serious tax which would be a drive to get people back to the high street.”

And he added that he feared the generation gap which meant more people were shopping online made this even more urgent.

“I was brought up without the internet, but there’s no way back for the high street unless we find a way to tax online shopping.”