What retailers can learn from independent cinemas

The UK high street has long been a staple in British culture, serving as an important hub for local communities, for consumers to shop, eat and socialise. However, with reports suggesting that one in four shoppers could abandon the UK high street by Christmas 2021, and many well-loved retail stores announcing their high street closures, it is clear that retail on the high street is beginning to flounder.

However, independent cinemas are continuing to thrive - independent chains now represent 7% of UK box office, compared with just 2.5% four years ago. Unlike huge multiplex cinema chains, independent cinemas can offer truly intimate, memorable experiences, and are often integral parts of their local communities. With this in mind, there are several ways in which struggling retailers can learn from indie cinemas, in order to increase traction and regain an emotional connection with consumers.

Focus on quality of experience

One thing independent cinemas do well is making it easy for the consumer to spend time with them. With more than half (55%) of UK consumers now shopping more online, this can start with ensuring that the business has an accessible website that is easy to use and contains relevant information for consumers to make an informed decision. With most consumers preferring to check listings online before paying a visit to the cinema, having a slick website and smooth ticketing experience has been key for increasing traction for cinemas.

In-store, retailers could consider tailoring the experience to the community or customers that they are serving. This might include being flexible with opening times, especially when looking to target a certain demographic. For example, independent cinemas understand that older people prefer to visit the cinema earlier in the day, so adapt screening times to cater towards this audience need, when larger multiplexes tend to have standard timings across the board.

Indies also have more focus on choosing films they think would better appeal to the community, an approach which high street retailers could consider in terms of the types of products they’re carrying. This could include having a larger selection of local produce or choosing items that would be more appealing to a younger audience, for example.

Once customers have visited your store, give them a reason to return and show you understand them. Offering customers an insightful, high-quality and well-informed experience will give them a better incentive to come back and shop again. For example, an independent cinema might send a customer a discount for The Aftermath if they’ve just watched The Favourite.

Be a part of the local community

Long-standing independent cinemas such as The Plaza in Truro, have come to be integral parts of the local community, and are setting a precedent for others across the UK. This has been achieved in a number of ways, from facilitating meetings for local community groups or schools during quiet periods, to supporting other local businesses as part of a wider strategy.

Independent cinemas build relationships with local businesses by stocking local produce, from snacks to alcoholic beverages, and collaborating with retailers or restaurants in the area - such as Indigo Restaurant at Rich Mix - to provide discounts and savings for consumers. Retailers should be exploring how they can embed into the local community in meaningful ways, offering special events or thinking of new ways of utilising space. One example is Debenhams using excess space for WeWork.

Provide a service that the online disruptors can’t

In the film industry, there are anecdotes about cinema staff offering that extra special service by opening doors for guests when they entered. To this day, an enthusiastic and engaged front of house team is a very important part of good customer service. First impressions count - a welcoming and friendly face can add to the overall ambience of the store, and if they can go that extra mile and provide a more personalised service, it can enhance the overall shopping experience.

The world of independent cinema and retail can seem fairly different on the surface. However, both operate in similar ways and rely heavily on local communities in order to survive. Whilst high street retailers are struggling to face up to the online competition and big retail chains, independent cinemas are also being challenged by online streaming platforms and cinema multiplexes.

However, independent cinema has been able to thrive by owning its niche in the market. This has been made viable by offering a high quality experience, placing more focus on serving and benefiting the community, and ensuring that they are taking advantage of the benefits of having a physical presence and a close proximity to the community. These strategies can easily be adopted by local retailers to ensure that they are offering a unique experience on the high street.