Coronavirus: Convenience stores are finally getting the recognition they deserve

By Blake Gladman, strategy and insights director at Kam Media

Some newspapers have been reporting that convenience stores are now the backbone of our communities. They’ve been there all along, my friend.

For those of us close to the industry, who work in or with convenience retailers, and the millions of shoppers who regularly rely on their local convenience store, it will come as no surprise to be told of the importance that these stores have on supporting our communities.

However, the impact of Covid-19 on the supply chain to larger multiple supermarkets has meant that there are now very few people left who would argue against the vital role local convenience stores play in supporting the communities in which they operate.

The bastion of the neighbourhood

Now, more than ever, we stand collectively in the appreciation for the bastion of the neighbourhood, the queen of the community and the ray of light in the lives of the elderly, vulnerable and pretty much anyone who is now in need of support, sustenance and essential supplies.

The UK convenience channel has always prided itself on maintain the core beliefs which makes convenience ‘convenient’.

* The personal touch: Understanding the needs of your shoppers and being flexible in how to provide shoppers with the products and services that they need.

* Availability: Doing everything possible to ensure that the products that shoppers demand are available when they want them.

A key USP of convenience stores was that they were on your doorstep, for when you quickly needed essentials and items you’ve run out of – the “distress” shop. Now, many are literally “on your doorstep” delivering goods to customers who are self-isolating or unable to leave their homes – helping people in distress.

What makes a convenience store truly convenient?

Convenience, as a definition of a store, has always been one which has evolved over time. Ask a customer “What defines a convenience store”’ and you will get a different response each time. Because it is a definition which even the industry itself can’t agree on. Rewind to the 30s and 40s and the convenience store was the shop on the corner of every street, offering, for many, the only option for their essentials.

Then when the supermarkets, as we know them today, began to expand in the 70s, the convenience store became the alternative for those wanting a more personalised experience and a crucial resource for those unable to travel further afield.

Fast-forward to the present day, and with the rise of online shopping and delivery, and the move of many supermarkets and discounters to take up residence on our high streets again, we see the definition of what makes a convenience store “convenient” evolve again.

Being there when we need them

Every day on social media we see countless examples of what independent retailers have been doing, from organising local deliveries, to making sure prices are maintained and doing everything they can to ensure that milk, bread and toilet roll (!) are in ready supply. There are endless examples here.

For me, being a “convenient” store is being there when you need them, with what you need. Which is easier said than done. It means knowing your local area, knowing your customers, engaging with the community, keeping on top of consumer trends, understanding the competition, and more. It takes effort, dedication and above all a passion to serve and support.

If any positive news is coming out of the current pandemic, then it’s the humility, empathy, passion and purpose with which convenience retailers, up and down the country, have been providing their communities with the support that they need.

Shop local, buy local and support your local retailers. We need them more than ever, and they need us just as much. We’re in this together and together we can achieve some beautiful things.

Kam Media offers hospitality and grocery retail consumer insights, trends and content creation 

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