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Hopes high for 'jewels in the crown' of Inverness city centre retail

By Alasdair Fraser

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Bid manager Mike Smith
Bid manager Mike Smith

Optimism and confidence is returning among city centre jewellers forced to close their doors to loyal customers during four long months of Covid-19 lockdown.

Inverness traders in an industry often regarded as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the retail sector report a cautious but steady upturn in business since restrictions were eased in mid-July.

The city is blessed with a diverse array of outlets from popular quality national chains to small tourist-orientated stores and more distinct independent, family-run businesses with a strong local heritage.

On top of enforced closure, the absence of large celebratory gatherings such as weddings hit online trade during already challenging times.

But, as the city centre has gradually awoken, a strong emphasis on safety measures and social-distancing is steadily luring back those in search of everything from cheaper gifts and fashion accessories to diamond goods, quality silver and cutting edge wristwatch technology.

Jewellers bring healthy footfall and spending to the High Street, the Old Town and Eastgate Shopping Centre.As Inverness BID manager Mike Smith explained, they are one of myriad reasons shoppers spend time and money in the heart of the city.

“It is all of the parts within a city that make up the whole,” Mr Smith said.

“With regard to jewellers, we have a great range in the city centre and they are a very important part of our retail sector.

“The multiples add depth to the shopping offer and with independents providing quality and variety, they both feed off each other.”

Inverness-based economist Tony Mackay highlighted the importance of jewellery sales to the UK and Scottish economies.

A traditionally strong tourism industry in Inverness only adds to the sector’s significance locally.

“Jewellery accounts for about two per cent of annual consumer spending in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics,” Mr Mackay said.

“Total spend in 2018 was estimated at £13.9 billion and average spend per consumer was £90. However, average annual growth in the last five years has been surprisingly high at +14 per cent a year.

Economist Tony Mackay.
Economist Tony Mackay.

“I estimate that total jewellery expenditure in Scotland last year was approximately £1.2 billion, with an average of £80 per consumer. However, most individuals’ spending varies enormously from year to year, depending on special events such as birthdays, anniversaries and weddings.

“Inverness has an excellent range of jewellers and related shops, from national chains – most of which are located in the Eastgate Centre – to local businesses, mostly found in the Victorian Market and on the High Street.

“There are also specialist tourist shops, mainly serving visitors, as well as second-hand or pawn shops.

“The first three groups seem to have done well in recent years, up until the coronavirus pandemic began.”

Mr Mackay is confident on prospects, adding: “I expect their business to pick up again once the pandemic is over.

“However, for reasons I am not sure about, there has been a noticeable reduction in the number of shops selling second-hand jewellery.

“Average spend in the Inverness area will be higher than the Scottish annual average of £80 given the importance of tourists.”

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