This afternoon I am very pleased to be presenting at the Annual Conference of the Scottish Grocers’ Federation in Glasgow. The novelty of doing this F2F is slightly offset by the wisdom of doing so, not because of what I might say and the reaction I might get, but because….. well you know.
The invitation was to discuss in 10 minutes or less convenience stores and the Covid 19 pandemic. Where to start? The slideshow below is the presentation I eventually came up with and the text following is an accompanying summary to the slides.
In March 2020, the world changed in Scotland and for retailing. It is hard now to realise how rapidly it unfolded, but also of course how persistent it has been. There is an interesting extended timeline available produced by SPICe, just to remind you of some things that went on.
Retailing in a very short space of time was redefined and classified into essential and non-essential, with considerable consequences. Lockdowns became the norm with some initial panic buying but a longer-term focus on staying local and the extension of technology (for example online retailing but also contactless cards). For convenience stores they were at least essential, but they brought new patterns, challenges and costs, as well as returns.
The impacts can be divided into sales shifts and behavioural questions. “Hospitality” (in the broadest sense) sales switched to retail, digital sales rose dramatically and local businesses gained sales. Convenience stores saw sales increase, basket size grow and market share expand. This has dropped back a bit in 2021 but is still a positive story.
Behaviourally, the pandemic made many consumers (and others) focus on what was important to them and their communities. There has been great questioning of how systems are structured and why, and who benefits (and who does not) leading to issues over sustainability and equity. Convenience stores are at the heart of this, serving many communities, including some of those hardest hit by the pandemic.
We are now though, albeit in a bumpy fashion, beginning to live with the virus. Physical shopping has grown, reducing the online peak. Hospitality has opened up, and some travel. Larger retailers via larger stores have regained some market share. Previous patterns are re-establishing.
It is also the case though that new patterns are emerging, albeit all of these have very distinct demographic impacts. Working from home has become a bigger thing. Digital embeddedness has become more normal and where people live, work and move around is altering. For convenience stores as this unfolds there will be opportunities, but in some areas, challenges.
So, what are my reflections? Convenience stores did a great job, well. They provided a vital support network for many individuals and communities. More people realised what convenience stores are all about and can deliver, in person and increasingly digitally. In all of this, the vital importance of ‘local’ has become ever more recognised and supported, with businesses and consumers reacting very positively.
As the First Minister said in March 2020, this is ‘the biggest challenge of our lifetimes’. In meeting that challenge convenience stores play a vital role in delivering for people, places and the planet. They can serve the needs of all communities and people in Scotland. To do so we need to build on the recent progress and develop a system that ensures we are stronger and more locally resilient for the future, to the benefit of the local communities.