Convenience with a Twist.

Tesco has more than 1,700 Express stores throughout United Kingdom

Tesco has more than 1,700 Express stores throughout United Kingdom

Grocery market forecasts for the UK indicate a grueling time to 2020: overall grocery expenditure edging up a tick over 2% per year but a redistribution of spend with big box store sales declining, small supermarkets static, convenience stores sales positive but not a patch on the strong growth anticipated for online and hard discounters (IGD). So, what’s all the hype about convenience stores and shrieks of derision aimed at Morrisons when it sold its M Local convenience stores to retail entrepreneur Mike Green? Remember, in early-2015, Morrisons reported an annual loss of £792 million of which £36 million was attributed to M Local and, in the cold light of day, a proportion of the small stores proved to be, well, inconvenient for shoppers! Sainsbury’s will be hoping that the 2 “Local” stores scheduled for opening each week for the next 12 months will be convenient – close to work or home and offering meal and snack solutions for their customers.

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In history, C-stores were independently-owned or franchises and catered principally for morning purchases of milk, cigarettes, newspapers and maybe a snack to eat on the bus and, at the end of the day, booze, more ciggies and panic food purchases for the evening meal. Milk was central – thus the generic term of a dairy for a convenience store in New Zealand and Mac’s Milk as the iconic Canadian corner store. Then, in the UK, the supermarket chains muscled in offering a wider range of products that they tried to shoe horn into 100 square metres of space. Retail artisans have grasped opportunities, too, servicing live-to-eat “foodies” with specialist fare rather than the more desperate eat-to-live “fuellies”!

Now, retail science pervades the convenience store scene as vendors talk of mission management and present a range of offers that meet the requirements of shoppers throughout the day. 7-Eleven have been masters of this particularly in Japan. Tesco is experimenting flipping the offers of breakfast/lunch/dinner/snack solutions during the day in their Express format across London; and be impressed by the wall of commuters clambering over each other to grab & go dinner at major railway stations!

The word convenience is defined as “to do something without difficulty”. For a convenience store, this mandates convenience of location and of product selection and payment within the store. But it should do so much more – it should inspire the shopper and supermarket businesses have generally lacked inspiration! UK retailers already change promotions from week-to-week, and offer something special for the weekend (mind you, men’s barbers  were doing exactly that decades ago!). Let’s go a step further and change the assortment – focusing on different products and themes throughout the week:

  • a health and well-being weekly journey – celebrate Meat Free Monday, detox Tuesday, classic comfort foods for caught-in-the-middle Wednesday, pop in a well-earned indulgent offer for Thursday, and don’t forget Fishy Friday;
  • maybe a Downton Abbey on your lap meal (in the USA, the food and drink industry presented “Monday Night Football” offers for NFL aficionados, mind you they were never a pretty sight!);
  • perhaps, try a geography and culinary lesson week – hopping from Vietnamese pho to Spanish paella and, on a whim, avoiding anything “pulled”! When did we start pulling meat?!
E17, one of the Spar stores in North London.

E17, one of the Spar stores in North London.

Adding excitement and theatre to the convenience shopping mission will bring complexity to supply chain and store management. However, it will be a step forward in combatting the increasing competitive pressure felt from restaurants with a speedy home delivery offer. Smaller and more frequent purchases will become more important in the overall grocery spend scene. Where these purchases are made – in a convenience store, petrol forecourt, metro or supermarket – will depend on what is most convenient and fulfilling for the shopper and not on the label that a retailer elects to call a particular shop.

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About the authors
Prof David Hughes: Around the world, David speaks to senior agribusiness and food industry managers about global food industry developments that are and will affect their businesses and industry. Energetic, engaging, humorous and insightful, David gains the very highest evaluations at seminars, conferences and Board level discussions in every continent he visits. Miguel Flavián: works for several Spanish organisations and companies to help them to learn from the developments of the British grocery market and improve their business back home.
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