A CHANGE in our shopping habits has left independent High Street retailers wondering how to deal with the threat of internet retailers.

In years gone by, the only way of buying Christmas presents and essentials would have been to brave the town centre crush and spend hours fighting through the crowds.

But the prominence of online stores now means shoppers can choose their products from the comfort of their own homes, before either collecting the items or waiting for them to be delivered at a time to suit them.

The prospect of shoppers abandoning the High Street could put the longevity of some of south Essex’s best-known independent shops in doubt.

But a new initiative being launched in Southend could provide traditional retailers with a greater foothold in the digital age.

Yoohopp was originally devised in the run up to Christmas last year with the aim of providing a “click and collect” service reflecting shopping options in individual towns or cities.

With the help of the Southend Business Improvement District (Bid), the town’s own version of the site has launched, offering browsing shoppersachoice of products from national and independent retailers in one place.

Alison Dewey, Southend Bid manager, said: “Customers can uncover hidden gems in Southend, browsing products ranging from clothing, home interiors, wine, gifts and much more, all while sitting at home.

“Retailers in the town centre have the opportunity to increase online sales as well as drive footfall back into their stores by making their products available online.”

Family-run department store Ravens of Southend was originally founded in 1897 and has been based in its current store in Clifftown Road for six decades.

The shop is currently run by husband and wife Neil and Marian Raven, who have been joined by their daughter Hannah, who is the fifth generation of the family to be involved in the business.

Ravens is one of the independent retailers whose products are available to select on Yoohopp.

Neil said: “I think the idea behind it is to have a specific Southend website, so we are hoping people who perhaps don’t know us at the moment will look online and pick us up.

“It gives people the option and saves them travelling around the High Street, as that is the way retail is moving. From my point of view, there is nothing like touching and feeling the goods, but obviously lots of people are going online instead, so we thought it was an opportunity.”

Other independent Southend traders selling products on Yoohopp include Teddy Station, based in the Victoria Shopping Centre.

But the site also features national chains such as Boots and Marks and Spencer.

Visit yoohopp.co.uk/southend