Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

It’s no secret the high street is struggling with a worryingly large number of retailers announcing closures. This is partly because of the rise in online shopping, but at the same time, many people still like to see, feel and try products for themselves before buying.

In response, a new programme combining the best of both worlds has been announced.

Called Clicks and Mortar, it’s a joint venture between Enterprise Nation and Amazon that will give more than 100 small online businesses the support and recognition they need to help them grow.

It’ll also enable them to sell on the high street for the first time through pop-up stores, and Manchester’s been chosen as the location for the first one.

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

“We chose Manchester, not only because it’s a city full of great entrepreneurial talent, but also because it’s fast becoming our second home in the UK,” says Doug Gurr, UK country manager, Amazon.

“Amazon has had a presence in Manchester for many years and we currently operate multiple sites in the city and across the north west, including three of our fulfilment centres close by in Airport City Manchester, Bolton and Warrington.

“Last year, we also announced plans to open our new corporate office in the iconic Hanover Building in the Northern Quarter where we’ll have at least 600 new roles, including software development, machine learning and research and development.

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

“We very much see Manchester as the home for Silicon Valley jobs in the heart of the north west.”

Located at St Mary’s Gate and open for a month, the pop-up shop is the first of 10 to open across the UK as part of a year-long pilot scheme.

Inside the temporary store, shoppers can wander around, see the products for themselves and meet the people behind them.

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

“Each of the small businesses has designed and set up individual concessions in accordance with their branding, creating a look and feel that’s just like their own store,” explains Doug.

“We want to champion these businesses as much as possible, so it’s important for us that customers feel like they’re in the small businesses’ natural environment.”

There’s everything from homeware, health and beauty to food and drink, electronics, and even scooters.

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

“We’ve always focused on our online business, but a pop-up is an ideal way for customers to try our scooters out for themselves,” says Camilla Iftakhar, co-founder of Swifty Scooters, the Manchester-based team that design and manufacture foldable kick-scooters for adults.

As Emma Jones, the founder of Enterprise Nation, a support group for small businesses, says, “UK shoppers like to shop both online and in high street stores, and our intention is to help small businesses succeed by combining the best elements of online and high street retail.

“This new concept will provide small businesses with the space, technology and support to experience physical retail for the first time, while enabling customers to discover new brands on their local high streets.”   

Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Not only is it hoped the new model will help up-and-coming online brands grow their high street presence, but it will highlight the potential benefits of combining in-store and online retail. Research from the experiment is due to submitted to the government as part of the Future High Streets strategy.

As part of the programme, a £1million Apprenticeship Fund has also been set up to train over 150 apprentices to help small businesses boost their productivity, sales and exports in the digital age.

There will also be Amazon Academies, a series of free events across the UK that will provide hands-on, practical training with the first event taking place at Amazon’s fulfilment centre in Manchester.

“Our presence in Manchester not only cements our long-term commitment to the region, but also enables us to continue to innovate on behalf of small businesses around the country,” says Doug.

“It’s a city that we know well and with such a vibrant business and high street community, so it felt like the perfect choice for our first Clicks and Mortar store and first Amazon Academy event this year.”

Clicks and Mortar, St Mary’s Gate is open Monday to Saturday, 10am-7pm.

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