In my opinion: Northern businesses proving to be hardier and smarter than ever, says ChannelAdvisor


Despite an ever-changing retail climate, the North is proving as resilient as ever as businesses based in this region are getting to grips with new digital strategies help weather the storm. Ahead of the company’s Catalyst 2017 e-commerce event in Manchester, Adam Joseph, director of client services at ChannelAdvisor, sheds light on the current state of play for UK retail and how northern businesses are proving to be hardier and smarter than ever

Joseph: opportunity for Northern businesses

Historically, London has been crowned the retail capital of the world. At the end of 2016, a survey by travel company Expedia found that holidaymakers in Europe are most likely to have visited London to shop, putting it ahead of cities such as Paris, Milan and New York City. London is home to some of the biggest and most prestigious retail stores in the UK, including the likes of Harrods, Selfridges, Fenwick’s, Liberty and Harvey Nichols. However, despite London being the jewel in the UK’s retail crown, the tides are turning. This is largely due to the role of e-commerce in modern retail, which is opening up opportunities for brands based in the North of the country that otherwise might have been forgotten or overshadowed.

The UK’s high streets have taken a bit of a battering in recent times, with many physical stores being closed down across the country as a result of changing shopping habits and the overheads associated with maintaining a bricks and mortar presence. The national ‘Save The High Street Campaign’ has attempted to help high street brands recognise the importance of digital business by turning their attention to e-commerce in order to survive today’s turbulent retail times. While the North of England has suffered many high street losses of its own, it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, it looks like Northern businesses are experiencing a virtual renaissance.

The North has been a beacon for retail talent for some time and despite today’s climate, this shows no signs of stopping. The Stock Exchange’s ‘1,000 Companies to Inspire Britain’ report, which was released in May 2017, highlighted a number of northern retail brands on the coveted list of some of the fastest-growing and most dynamic SMEs in the UK. According to estimates, around 10% of the Northern England workforce is employed in retail, and the North is home to two of the big four supermarkets – Asda and Morrisons. Today, the North also boasts many online retailers; a report by eBay in 2015 revealed that the region is now overtaking the rest of the country for online retailing, particularly Manchester thanks to its growing tech scene.

This is why this year, we have moved our annual customer event – Catalyst – to Manchester. We have a number of customers who are both based in the North, including, Pretty Little Thing and JD Williams. They have successfully embraced digital tools and skills to create thriving businesses that are surviving the changing demands and habits of consumers.

Take Chums as an example. Today, Chums is effectively an online department store for pensioners, but its transformation over the years is an inspiration to other local, northern businesses that start small but always think big. Founded in 1980, Chums started off by taking adverts out in the back of newspapers to sell its core proposition – trousers. Chums quickly moved from ads in newspapers to a catalogue business with over a million customers and a burgeoning product range covering men and women, homeware, garden and mobility, aimed mostly at the over 65s.

Chums’ website was launched in 1998, encouraging its customers to become silver surfers. By 2008, Chums was selling its goods on eBay and enlisted the help of ChannelAdvisor to expand its online presence and manage its inventory. Today, Chums now sells on both eBay and Amazon across the world, providing a substantial income to the business. These local success stories are becoming more and more prevalent as retailers start to harness marketplaces like Amazon, eBay or Fruugo to help them achieve scale and reach that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

As the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ of e-commerce begins to pick up steam, we thought it was time we moved the event from London to Manchester this year to celebrate businesses of all shapes and sizes, wherever they are based. We also wanted to provide the opportunity for northern businesses to have access to resources, speakers and companies that they might not otherwise have access to. We have a number of impressive speakers – Google, Mary Portas, The Cambridge Satchel Company and World First – ready to share their knowledge and experience of retail in the 21st century as well as tips for how retail businesses can ride the wave of digital to come stronger, smarter and better connected. We welcome any retailer to come join us at The Principal Hotel on the 16th May and you can find more information on the event here: