By Jo Kent, Associate Partner
When the UK lockdown was first announced there was, quite rightly, an outpouring of support for the NHS front-line teams putting their lives at risk on our behalf. As time went on, there came a realisation that the ‘key workers’ striving tirelessly to keep our country moving during this crisis extended far beyond the NHS to numerous other services that have gone over and above to help our communities and their spirit survive and even thrive despite the threat of Covid-19.
The spotlight began to shine brighter on the unsung heroes of the pandemic such as the convenience store retailers who responded to the crisis with stories of innovation and unparalleled support for the communities they serve. Despite the threat that was very much present for them and their staff, they chose to face the challenge head-on and seek ways to better serve their local communities. From new home delivery services, extended hours to completely renovated ranges and store offerings – out with the food-to-go and in with the fresh produce and colouring books. As in previous years, convenience retailers were quick to learn and adapt to the needs of their customers, in order to help them through these challenging times.
During this period, convenience retailers have had to navigate numerous hurdles as suppliers struggled to keep up with the demand for ‘essentials’ such as toilet roll and alcohol – often battling to maintain a decent supply of goods for their stores. They’ve shockingly had to endure verbal, and in some instances, physical abuse at the hands of the shoppers they are trying to help. Not to mention the dangerous reality of serving customers during a pandemic, which has sadly led to the closure of too many incredible retailers who were true champions of convenience retailing.
For many, the convenience store is the heart of the community, especially in rural areas and small towns and villages where there’s often little more on offer outside the corner shop and local pub. There’s a sense of familiarity and reassurance from shopping in a local store which just can’t be mirrored in a supermarket. In particular, the personal touch to customer service which is virtually impossible to achieve in a large supermarket with an ever-changing rota of staff. As the major multiples regained a handle on their supply levels and social distancing measures, I couldn’t help but fear that this would work against local convenience stores as more people felt confident about returning to the supermarket for their weekly shop, despite the snaking queues of people eagerly waiting to fill up their trolleys.
As the headlines are frequently filled with details of the next retail outlet to suffer the impact of Covid-19, it is with relief I see figures showing this isn’t the case – at least not yet – for smaller shops. Reports highlight that consumer shopping habits certainly shifted in favour of convenience stores during the initial weeks that followed lockdown and, while the sales growth has slowed somewhat, figures suggest sales are still considerably up year-on-year, and long may it continue.
As we start adapting our daily lives to the new normal, I hope the incredible support we have benefitted from, thanks to our local convenience retailers, will not be forgotten. Shopping local to support independent businesses in our community has been a trend we’ve seen gather pace in recent years and I hope this will be the start of something bigger and better for a retail channel that really deserves the same support it has offered us and our communities during a time of crisis.