The consumer agrees

There is ample evidence of shoppers leaning towards the need for more diversity and choice in the grocery market. Much of this need is met by the choice available in superstores.

The consumer fell in love with the Tesco style of pile it high and sell it cheap in the 1970s and 1980s. But in 2006 the offering in the majors runs from white goods to fashion and on to vast ranges of food from value and organic to “finest”.

But diversity also means choice of shopping destination – and the consumer is today, probably more than ever, looking for alternative shopping venues despite the success of the superstores.

The My Shop Is Your Shop (MSYS) activity is not a political lobby. Other campaigns are busy on the regulatory front and duplication of this activity would be wasteful.

STRONG VOTE FOR SMALL STORES

MSYS seeks to promote the positives which are naturally found in the value of the local independent store to the local community – reminding the shopper of the unique localness of the sole trader and family business. MSYS invested in research, undertaken by Opinion Matters, to establish consumer attitudes to small shops and, unsurprisingly, found wide support for them.

But what was a surprising element in the research analysis was the strength of the vote for small stores. No fewer than 90% of respondents agreed with the statement that “big business is driving smaller businesses out.”

This does not mean that, overnight, consumers are leaving their cars in the garage and refusing to drive to their favourite superstore for the weekly shop.

But it does provide a strong signal that the basic belief among consumers is that small local stores are a good thing. The absence of negatives in this signal are important in demonstrating consumer support for the MSYS philosophy.

Government, local and national, and not the superstores themselves, get it in the neck for allowing small local shops to decline. More than 51% of respondents said government had allowed large scale development of big retail outlets without understanding or caring about the impact on small shops.

And only 13% of respondents said that local stores did not have a future – the flip side of this is that the vast majority of shoppers believe small stores do have a future. Again, the superstores are not the biggest culprit when it comes to the consumer’s reasons for the threat seen to local culture. It is put down first to high crime rates, then superstores, and after that misguided local government. Respondents in rural areas were leaders in saying they enjoyed shopping where they are known to the store owner (61%). But this did not differ much from all UK respondents, 51% of whom said the same thing.

RETAILERS FIT MSYS PROFILE

Curiously, 52% of respondents said they would change their shopping habits and support the local store if they felt it was under threat from the Big Four.

This can be interpreted as more consumer support for small shops – even if consumers are not changing their shopping patterns to the extent that figure implies.

How do independent retailers view the MSYS campaign and its centrepiece, the annual National Independents’ Day in June?

The plain answer is that there is overwhelming support for the activity and its objectives – demand from independents for in-store theatre kits and POS outstripped supply – but what is important is that retailers themselves have described their community role.

Research undertaken this year revealed that more than half of independent retailers say that over half of their customers enter the shop looking for conversation in addition to groceries.

Seven out of ten retailers said they personally recognised at least half of the customers who entered the store.

More than half of retailers said they shared the same concerns as their customers because they “live and work in the same community”. Most independents, the research revealed, could recall at least one occasion when they were able to help a customer who had some bad luck or personal difficulty.

This is clear blue water between the sole trader and family business and the multiple store manager who quite naturally has a corporate agenda to follow and different sales targets to pursue.

The conclusion must be this: consumers want and need small local stores. It’s up to independents and their supplying wholesalers to meet the need.

And the MSYS campaign is accurately and sharply focused on a responsive consumer audience who will be increasingly influenced by the campaign’s community message.

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