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Cash mobs a PR boon to high street

High street shopping chester retail

A quirky scheme that simultaneously attracts custom and media coverage to independent retailers is the latest idea to reassure business buyers that the high street's future needn't be bleak.

The brainchild of Enfield coffeeshop owner Karen Mercer, 'cash mobs' occur when a group of 10 shoppers together descend on a lucky retailer armed with £10 each to spend.

Not only does the scheme get the tills ringing but it has also proven successful in generating media interest. Karen, who invites the media to every cash mob, has already explained the scheme on the BBC news.

And another Enfield business owner enjoyed some free publicity from her cash mob experience when it was featured in the Enfield Independent.

Speaking to the paper, Kate Smith, who set up the bakery and deli with her husband Richard Copsey 15 months ago, said: 

"It was a bit of a surprise, it was lovely and we have all just about recovered. We were all heads down, then all these people suddenly appeared. 

Someone asked me the other day: 'What good's a flash mob?' If someone throws a stone into a pond, it might not look like a very big action, but the ripples go out - the press, the money, the motivation, the boost to morale

Karen Mercer, who launched the Cash Mobs scheme in Enfield

"It was a bit of a shock at first, we hadn't suspected it at all. I had been following the cash mob but it never occurred to me that she would choose Holtwhites bakery."

Awareness generated

The target of each cash mob is kept secret from both shoppers and the chosen proprietor until the very last moment.

Another cash mob target appreciated the awareness generated as much as the immediate cash injection. "We've been here many years, but a lot of people do not know we are just around the corner," store owner Jill Thompson told the Convenience Store. "Promotion for a store like ours is tough, so this event was absolutely great."

Speaking to the BBC News, Karen Mercer, who introduced the scheme to Enfield, said: "I was thinking to myself, 'God, who's going to come along and spend £10 in a store I'm telling them to spend £10 in?' But because of the hard economic times, people have been more motivated to spend money on local independent retailers. 

"Someone asked me the other day: 'What good's a flash mob?' If someone throws a stone into a pond, it might not look like a very big action, but the ripples go out - the press, the money, the motivation, the boost to morale. It all helps the shopkeeper."

The cash mob, which descended on its first London business in August, is the latest in a series of unconventional measures designed to arrest the decline of high streets which are battling multiple challenges, including 2010's VAT rise, the ongoing squeeze on real incomes and the out-of-town shopping centre.

A survey revealed that difficult trading conditions are the biggest deterrant to people buying retailers. Asked to rank five challenges in order of concern, the thousands of aspiring retailers surveyed ranked difficult trading conditions as their biggest concern, followed by competition from large chains.

Ironically, another factor behind the high street's tribulations - the internet, because of the precipitous rise of online shopping - is helping Mercer to arrange the cash mobs. Foodies Enfield, a Facebook group set up by Mercer, attracts participants to, and organises, the cash mobs.

The coalition government appointed retail guru Mary Portas to lead an independent review into the future of the high street in 2010.

Portas, who rose to prominence as the star of TV show Mary Queen of Shops, proposed the establishment of a new National Market Day whre budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business, the removal of unnecessary regulations, creating more free parking and persuading local councils to give rate concessions to new businesses, among other measures.

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