There aren’t many issues that will shift the classic British stiff upper lip. One or two of us might throw a tantrum in the face of a meat-free sausage roll, it’s true. But on the whole, most of us have a pretty high tolerance for real tribulations. ‘Keep calm and carry on’, as the saying goes.
One outlier to this is the matter of a small chocolate frog named Freddo. Heavens forbid if the price of this small dairy treat is changed — no doubt many a shopkeeper is tired of hearing the outrage over the price of a Freddo. But the cost of a Freddo is not the only thing that has changed at these staple British shops.
Corner shops have always adapted
Price changes are not the only thing that has changed. After all, a shop caters to its customers and changes to suit. According to The Local Shop Report 2018 from the Association of Convenience Stores, there are 46,262 convenience stores in UK’s mainland, and 28% of these are run by people who have been in the business for more than 25 years.
As for their customers:
Age range Gen Z (16-24) Millennials (25-34) Gen X (35-54) Baby Boomers (55-74) Silent Generation (75+)
Customer percentage 13% 17% 33% 29% 8%
Top reason for visit Food-to-go (32%) Food-to-go (21%) Grocery top-up (22%) Newsagent (32%) Newsagent (42%)
Top driver for visit Close to home (66%) Close to home (62%) Close to home (64%) Close to home (70%) Close to home (82%)
There’s an interesting change between the generations of customers. Where the older two generations prefer to use corner shops as their source of information and news, naturally the younger two generations tend to get their news from smartphones apps and websites. In fact, one study highlighted that Generation Z in particular tends to get their news updates from Instagram (29%), YouTube (22%), and Facebook (15%). In the future, corner shops will not be a source of news for many of its customers at all.
Changing to meet demand
Technically, the latest change to corner shops is a return to their origin. Originally, corner shops were opened as a primary means for people in newly-created towns to do their grocery shopping. This dwindled away with the rise of supermarkets and hyper-competitive pricing, forcing corner shops to adopt new products to appeal to customers. Generation X has brought back the need to stock grocery goods for their top-up shops, given the increase in people opting to forgo the big weekly shop in favour for smaller, more frequent shops.
It is Generation Z and Millennials that are using corner shops for true convenience. Their main reason for visiting is for food-to-go — something fast for their time-starved lifestyles. Again, corner shops have changed to accommodate this, offering up more quick food and drink options such as prepared sandwiches and frozen drinks from the classic corner shop staple, the slushie machine. Corner shops can even compete with the younger generations’ much-loved coffee shop trips for a trendy Starbucks Frappuccino, with many corner shops installing their own machine and offering prepared sandwiches to appeal in the same fashion.
Building a new focus
With every generation noting a corner shop’s proximity as their main reason to visit, it’s safe to say the emphasis is still very much on convenience. But the focus of these shops has changed and evolved over the years to cater to an ever-growing list of demands and expectations. As The Grocer points out, convenience stores now stand as a melding of multiple shops, with food options like takeaways, postal services from the Post Office, baked goods in line with cafés, top-up facilities, ATM machines, and more. The outlet speculates that corner shops will continue to grow as a jack-of-all-trades, extending to services that are still quite cumbersome in the modern age, such as collecting repeat prescriptions or missed parcels.
How do you feel about the changes impacting corner shops and smaller retail? Do you miss the nostalgia of a small business, or do you prefer the more sleek, modern offerings of these increasingly multi-functional stores?