The traditional corner shop that I remember as a lad was opened from 10am – 4pm, Monday to Saturday; it closed for lunch from 12-1pm and also closed half day every Wednesday. But the shop did not open on Sundays – mind you nothing opened on a Sunday if I remember right.
All the local kids sat on the pavement outside the shop, mums went in to the shop to buy something and spent ages just chatting to neighbours and catching up on local gossip. The corner shop sold tins of food, fresh fruit and veg, bread, sweets, household products like washing power, soap detergents – but you where limited in choice. But it was the smell of fresh fruit that reminds me of my childhood days of the corner shop.
I can still remember when bread lasted for ages, same with fruit. I can’t understand why bread goes mouldy and veg and fruit deteriorate after a short period of time in my cupboard these days. This starry eyed view of the traditional corner shop, belongs to a bygone era, when we as consumers had fewer choices, we where not as mobile and our expectations where lower, wages were lower – we where prepared to accept the limited choices the local corner shop had to offer. The Daily Mail suggests that this all changed when Asian families took over the corner shop and sold a wider range of products and produce and never seemed to close.
But why are independent corner shops under pressure
Your local independent corner shopkeepers are having a hard time to make profits. They are having to pay high rents, rates, fuel bills and purchase good from suppliers at a high price, due to buying smaller volumes so making smaller profits. As they are operating in a market that puts them at disadvantage. The problem with this is that the high prices charged for goods end up driving their customers to the supermarkets, or the convenience shops that sell the same goods at a cheaper price, where buying the bulk of their family shopping makes savings and sense.
The supermarkets have the purchasing power to buy in bulk, to sell goods cheaper, hence why goods in independent corner shops are more expensive so on the whole they are struggling to survive. But what has also happened, is that we as consumers have become more expectant – wanting greater choices, we are mobile so able to travel to markets, shopping centres, city centres, supermarkets or local convenience stores. This willingness to travel and the freedom to choose is leading to the demise of the independent corner shop.
Corner shop to Convenience Store
The corner shop has changed from the halcyon days when the consumer was satisfied with whatever it had to offer – now the consumer demands greater choice and individual choice. Supermarkets invest millions of pounds in market research, advertising, design and packaging, in order to give us what ‘we want’ or ‘what we think we want’. Associating products to life style or trends, superstar endorsements – they are trying to creating a feel good factor in order to get us to buy goods.
Gone are the days when you can go into a shop to buy a loaf of bread and you only have one choice – every product now has multiple choices. I went into my local Tesco Express to by a loaf of bread the other day – my kids only eat white bread, I eat wholemeal bread, so I ended up buying two loaves of bread out of a choice of about ten different types of bread. Convenience stores have diversified – as well as food stuff – you can top up your phone cards, pay bills, top up fuel cards, buy lottery cards, greeting cards, alcohol, cigarettes etc. But they do tend to be a little more expensive that their parent company supermarkets.
The new breed of convenience stores are affiliated to one of the supermarket giants – these are the Tesco Express, Costcutter and Sainsbury Express. These have taken over corner shops or converted old petrol station or small retail shops, to broaden their customer base. They are targeting out of town highly populated areas, where there is a need for convenience store to supply late night shoppers, that is within a short drive or walk away from their homes. It doesn’t make sense to drive miles out of you way to a supermarket when all you want is a pint of milk. According to The Guardian, the new breed of convenience stores represent 50% of all convenience stores, they accounts for 31% of all sales and they are worth £23.9 bn. Over half of all shoppers visited convenient stores every 2 to 4 weeks.
Why are food prices increasing
The main Supermarkets that own the Convenient Stores have been accused of clubbing together to fix prices on staple goods, in so doing driving up prices in order to increase their profits. The UK’s biggest big four supermarkets – Tesco, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and Asda, where found guilty of collaborating with the dairy group Lactalis McLelland and were fined for braking the law by fixing the price on dairy products, but they did not accept liability. The Treasury fined the supermarket giants £116m after admitting that they fixed the price of milk, cheese and butter in a scandal estimated to have cost consumers about £270m.
This only adds to the increasing pressure on family expenditure, in which food represents up to one third of the household expenditure, with families having to play lottery when paying for gas, rents, and other household bills. It is convenient to blame the power of Supermarkets and the growth of the of convenience Store, which has led to the demise of the independent corner shop. But they both can’t co-exist in a competitive market where the supermarket giants have all the odds stacked in their favour.
The power of Supermarkets means they will not sit back on their laurels, so they have set up a charm offensive. Supermarkets have embarked on self promotion – promoting the positive thing they provide to the communities they serve in order to redress some of the negative press. They provide employment opportunities for local people, work placements, they have brought reduced food prices to local communities especially in socially deprived areas, and many of the top supermarkets have also set up community funds to support local charitable organisations.
The independent corner stores don’t have the capacity to provide to these types of services to the communities they serve, due to their size. But the significance of these stores in modern day British society is becoming less relevant, where as a consumer led society the price determines customer loyalty, rather than harking back to a bygone era of nostalgia of what use to be.
This article was written by St Clair Brown using our Community Reporters website