SHOPPERS could be rewarded for spending in Henley under plans to boost trade, writes Phil Simms.
Town centre manager Peter McConnell (pictured) wants to launch a loyalty scheme offering discounts to customers which he hopes would increase footfall.
Precise details of the scheme are still to be finalised but the most likely option is a loyalty card or a mobile phone application.
Customers would be able to use a reward-type card or scan an in-store barcode with their mobile phone to earn loyalty points and discounts. Similar schemes have been operating for more than a year in Abingdon and Thame while one in Princes Risborough is now in its fifth year.
Mr McConnell said: “It is a way of encouraging shoppers to use our independent stores in Henley, of which we have many.
“For independents, which don’t have the big marketing spends that some of the multiple retailers have, it is a way of helping them club together to improve their customer loyalty and get people spending a bit more in their shops.
“We are talking to both retailers and Henley shoppers and residents about what they would like to see.”
Mr McConnell says that even though there are only a handful of vacant shops in the town centre, some independent businesses are struggling and it is essential to encourage local people to shop here rather than in neighbouring towns.
He said: “It’s really important to recognise that we are in a competitive situation. The residents of Henley probably will shop in the town but it is important to attract all the people who live in the hinterland because they have a choice.
“We have to give them a reason to shop in Henley and on a regular basis.”
The loyalty scheme is the latest idea from Mr McConnell, a marketing expert who is almost halfway through a two-year contract funded by the town and district councils and the Henley Partnership to increase footfall. Other projects have included giving grants of up to £2,000 to businesses to improve the front of their buildings and marketing Henley as a winter destination.
Henley Mayor Elizabeth Hodgkin said a loyalty scheme had been considered some years ago but came to nothing.
“Independent retailers would have to buy into it,” she said. “Exploring all options is always a good idea but the devil is in the detail.”
Julie Perigo, who chairs the Henley Partnership, said: “It is an excellent idea for local retailers and residents. I’ve seen schemes elsewhere where service businesses join the card scheme too, which makes it even more powerful.
“But it stands and falls by how many local businesses can be bothered to join it. The more that do the better it is for everyone.”
Henley MP John Howell, who is a member of the Thame scheme, said: “A loyalty card idea is a good one and I would love to sign up to a Henley one as well.
“The card for Thame gives me a loyalty discount in some shops but it is early days on whether it has increased footfall as it has not been going for very long.
“From what I have seen, I have been impressed. It is a really good initiative to involve the community with the running of shops and for them to recognise who are their loyal customers.”
Traders have welcomed the idea of a loyalty scheme in principle.
Matthew Stone, owner of chocolatiers Gorvett & Stone in Duke Street, said he would prefer the option of the phone app but added: “We wouldn’t want to alienate some people so if we do have that there would need to be some sort of card as well.
“It may be difficult if people have to buy the card up front but it is worth giving all these things a go and, depending on how it works, I would be willing to give discounts.”
Bagatelle Toys in Bell Street already has a loyalty card which offers customers a five per cent discount if they spend over a certain amount.
Manager Nicholas Carlton said: “Our card has worked quite well and I don’t think a loyalty card is a bad idea as it would tie-in quite nicely with the Think Local campaign which the Standard started and really took off.”
Alison Burch, of St Audrey’s gift shop in Duke Street, said: “It is a good idea depending on what’s involved and how it works.
“We would support anything that is positive in terms of keeping customers interested and making businesses a joined-up enterprise and united.
“A similar thing was launched in Twyford 18 months ago which was quite successful and it involved other businesses such as painters and decorators.”
Oliver Gervaise-Jones, who owns the Bloc Coffee Shop in Market Place with his father David, said: “I live in Hertfordshire and have had shops in four different towns and have never come across this but I am all for pioneering concepts, particularly for the independent traders.
“Everyone loves a discount and I think something for use throughout the town and for the town exclusively would be beneficial for traders and would encourage people from out of town to come in.”
In Princes Risborough, more than 1,500 of the £20 cards have been sold. Half the fee goes to community projects.
Local councillor Bill Bendyshe-Brown, who is a member of the Risborough Area Business Group, says the scheme has helped increase the number of visitors by more than 75 per cent.
He said: “We have a monthly newsletter which goes out by email and copies are available in our information centre, telling you all about the latest ideas and gifts and offers available from the shops.”
David Knowles Leak, regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We fully support a scheme such as a loyalty card as it not only promotes the shops on the high street but the farmer or manufacturer down the road too and it puts money back into the local economy.”
lWhat do you think? Write to: Letters, Henley Standard, Caxton House, 1 Station Road, Henley, RG9 1AD or email firstname.lastname@example.org