Christmas is one of the toughest times for Big Issue vendors Busy December streets mean the chance to sell more magazines, but the cold weather and dark evenings also bring challenges. There aren’t many that enjoy standing outdoors in the winter and with shoppers less keen to stop and chat in inclement weather. What has made this even harder is the steady decline in cash transactions, with many more people expecting to be able to make contactless payments with their phone or credit card.
Fortunately though, there has been something of a cashless revolution at The Big Issue. And it really has been a revolution – since the first lockdown in 2020 there has been a 208 per cent1 increase in the number of vendors offering cashless sales. That’s more than 1,000 vendors, or a third of the workforce.
Securing magazine sales with the help of cashless is vital
Zettle by PayPal provides vendors with card readers, as well as a new service called Tap to Pay, meaning Big Issue sellers just need a mobile app on their Android device to take payments. With people increasingly relying on contactless, it can help them to secure much needed sales and also help them to sell magazines more quickly in the harsh weather.
Gary Phillips sells The Big Issue in Saltburn in North Yorkshire and loves being able to offer cashless sales.
“There’s people buying the magazine now who didn’t buy it at all before because they just never had cash in their pockets,” he says.
For Gary, 47, Christmas isn’t really a big thing. “I don’t really celebrate it, to be honest,” he says. “It’s more for the kids than for me and it’s about earning as much money as I can so I can give to my grandkids.”
There’s people buying the magazine now who didn’t buy it at all before because they just never had cash in their pockets
Gary, Big Issue vendor
With three grandchildren to treat, it’s an expensive time. So securing as many magazine sales with the help of cashless is vital – and despite being low-key about Christmas himself, Gary never forgets the locals who keep him in business. Having sold the magazine on the same pitch for more than four years he has become a fixture in his local community, and relationships have built up over the years. And, for both Gary and his customers, Christmas is a time when they can show their appreciation for each other.
Making Every Day Count
“I give my regular customers cards every single year, and I also buy them either a bottle of wine, or flowers or chocolates,” says Gary. “I know them really well as I’ve been on this pitch for years. I know everyone in this town, they bring me gifts as well. I get baskets, cards, socks. And I get invited for Christmas dinner at about 10 different houses ever year! Everyone is very kind.”
Last year, Gary hadn’t planned to celebrate. But at 2pm on Christmas Day, there was a knock on the door of his caravan. Standing there was cherished customer Nick with his daughter. The pair had brought Gary a full Christmas dinner, and even brought a beer to wash it all down with. Gary was delighted, but not entirely surprised.
The kindness from my customers is special. They are all really good people.
Gary, Big Issue Vendor
“Nick owns a café and he knew I did The Big Issue, so he started bringing me sandwiches. Then last year he knew I was going to be on my own on Christmas Day,” explains Gary. “The kindness from my customers is special. They are all really good people.”
Up in Milngavie, outside Glasgow, fellow vendor John Airdrie has also been feeling the benefits of cashless selling. It’s even more vital for him now as he returns to his pitch after struggling with his health.
He’s gone from being a seven-day, all-weather vendor to working just three or four days a week. To keep his earnings stable, he really has to make those days count.
“I’ve been cashless for a couple of years, from around the time of lockdown,” says John, 57. “I’ve got my regular customers who stop and speak to me every week.”
My customers give me cards too, maybe a wee present or a bottle to say Happy Christmas John. It’s a community which I love being part of.
John, Big Issue Vendor
Empty shops made his job harder during the pandemic, but the cashless sales boost coupled with the trust and kindness of his customers keep him going. “I’m well known here,” he says. “At Christmas time I give my customers a card to thank them for their support over the year, and for the older ones maybe a wee something to cheer them up. One of my customers, she’s 95, and she told me it was her birthday. I told her to come back and see me later and I jumped in to a shop and got her a box of chocolates and a card. She had tears in her eyes, it was nice.”
It’s not one-way traffic though. “There are some lovely people here in Milngavie,” he says. “My customers give me cards too, maybe a wee present or a bottle to say Happy Christmas John. It’s a community which I love being part of.”
Boosting inclusion as well as sales
Ciaran Flavin is another vendor who appreciates the community he’s built with his customers. He came to The Big Issue in 2020 after losing his job as a newspaper merchandiser, thinking initially he’d do it for a few months to tide him over. When Christmas rolled around and he was making more money than he’d expected, he also experienced levels of kindness that took him by surprise.
“I don’t do many hours, maybe seven to 10 a week,” says Ciaran, 67. “But last year, the Saturday before Christmas was very good, so I went out on the Sunday – and that was good as well.”
People just being friendly, joking, occasionally talking for a few minutes. That’s what makes me feel good about being out there
Ciaran, Big Issue Vendor
This Christmas, the London vendor can offer cashless sales too. The extra kindness that people show at this time of year – a sandwich, a coffee – are welcomed, he says. But it’s feeling like a trusted part of the community that really makes a difference.
“People just being friendly, joking, occasionally talking for a few minutes,” he says. “That’s what makes me feel good about being out there.”
Robert Broomfield, General Manager of Zettle by PayPal UK lead, says: “At Zettle we’ve seen for years the connection that small businesses have within their community, and it’s clear that it’s no different for Big Issue sellers. While we love hearing how our technology has helped boost sales and build financial inclusion for the vendors, it’s extremely humbling to see that it boosts societal inclusion too. Our partnership is an important step in our commitment to build a more inclusive, fair and transparent financial services system, where everyone deserves a chance to lead a better life. The Zettle by PayPal team wishes the sellers, and everyone at The Big Issue, a very happy Christmas.”
Your local vendor is at the sharp end of the cost-of-living crisis this Winter. Prices of energy and food are rising rapidly. As is the cost of rent. All at their highest rate in 40 years. Vendors are amongst the most vulnerable people affected. Support our vendors to earn as much as they can and give them a fighting chance this Winter.