Guest column: The retail view – Tanya Pepin, TWC

With consumer behaviours starting to change as the nation reawakens following the Covid-19 pandemic, TWC Director Tanya Pepin outlines the role convenience retail can play to maintain its share of the market

The media is full of stories about the sales growth convenience retailers have experienced through Covid and, commensurately, the wholesalers that serve them. Some wholesalers into retail have commented on being 100% on some categories. But is the bubble going to burst?

A large driver of this is consumers stuck at home with nowhere else to spend their money. This apparent ‘boom’ is simply the moving of consumer spend from hospitality into retail.

So, what does this mean? While it’s certainly true that many retailers have benefited from increased turnover, it’s not true of all. City-centre retailers have had a different experience.

TWC Trends has highlighted that convenience is now losing share of footfall gained through Covid due to less top-up shopping, as well as consumers choosing to shop in retail multiple stores instead of symbol and independent outlets.

High demand

But there have been some great moments for convenience retail through Covid and glimpses of what might have been if the sector can continue to ride the wave of its success. Retailers delivering to vulnerable members of their community – something that was impossible for a retail multiple. Consumers flocking to convenience stores because it was close to home and they could get in and out quickly – again, something that was impossible at a supermarket.

There has been trading tragedy too. We’ve watched a wholesale sector shouting to be listened to by government and the real risk of operators closing for good. The sector has felt abandoned and watched as other business communities got support and commendation. But it was ever thus.

Natural role

Anyone who has operated in wholesale for any length of time knows the sad truth. Wholesale doesn’t make headlines easily and consumers don’t care as much about a wholesaler as they do about their local pub. But why? When research states just over half of consumers use a pub or, to put it another way, nearly half of the population never even visits their local.

Consider that same statistic about the local shop when 75% of respondents to a TWC survey stated, ‘convenience stores help keep a community going’. Why can’t we use this? Covid has evidenced the need for more vulnerable people to get community support and there’s awareness across government that the UK is heading for a social-care crisis. Why not build a case to demonstrate how convenience retailers could be repositioned to provide groceries and community services?

A recent news article talked about how the NHS was going to come out of Covid prioritising prevention and that refuse collectors will be asked to check on isolated individuals. Surely this is a natural role for a community-based convenience store?

How perfect for vulnerable members of the community to be able to use their local c-store as a one-stop shop for essentials and a bit of TLC. During the pandemic, many retailers were doing this anyway. Presumably, if this were positioned correctly, there would be government funding available to formalise it?

convenience covid-19 retail Tanya Pepin TWC