By Liz Richardson
‘Open all hours’ is the proud boast of the most common retail format in the UK, the ever-present corner shop. But many brands seem to have forgotten the powerful influence that these neighbourhood stores exert, closing the door to working with hem effectively.
The humble convenience store is a format that’s under-appreciated, and it’s high time this changed. Because, it transpires, convenience stores are performing surprisingly well in these times of upheaval for the retail sector. Ttheir value is set to increase by nearly 18% in the next four years, as opposed to a just 6% for supermarkets.
As established supermarkets scrabble to compete with the likes of Lidl and Aldi, and with the sugar levy coming into force on April 6th, convenience stores appear more vital than ever.
Consumers lead busier lives than they once did. Online shopping continues to become more popular, with British shoppers buying more food online than anywhere else in the world for the second year running. Retailers’ loyalty programmes are being threatened by new, exciting prospects like Benebit, which claimed to unite all purchases under one universal points programme. Benebit turned out to be a scam, but the concept has appeal and a legitimate version could hit traditional loyalty programmes hard.
Yet at a time of such upheaval, brands can still make use of what is at their disposal today. Convenience stores are nimble and responsive players holding close, personal relationships with customers, that have helped them to thrive. Open to persuasion, they equip brands with a powerful, tangible option to influence shopper behaviour.
As it stands, brands are missing a trick by not fully utilising the convenience sector. Because convenience stores are more than just shops. They’re influencers. In the same way that someone on Instagram can nudge you to try a new drink or a different make-up brand, a late-night visit to a convenience store, the local off-licence, can bring that same opportunity.
Convenience stores should be on the agenda as early as NPD. Because when a new product launches, there needs to be some connection, some reason to buy it. That reason becomes much more apparent if it’s launched in conjunction with a local convenience store or symbol group rather than a massive supermarket chain.
Integration within convenience stores can help both parties achieve their business objectives, and it’s plain to see how effective it is when looking at big brands who’ve taken the plunge. Just glance towards Coca-Cola’s monopoly on the fridges in convenience stores – it’s omnipresent. As a result, it’s a go-to brand, always at hand, its influence reaching far beyond just the shelves.
Brands don’t have to copy Coca-Cola. Rather, they can adopt its mindset and forge a different path. For example, experiential brand campaigns have swept across supermarkets and shopping centres: 70% of consumers become regular customers after an experiential marketing event. This can be harnessed via the convenience route. Imagine how much more intimate and effective brand activations would become once delivered on a smaller, grassroots scale.
The key to brand success is empathy. Knowing what people want and why they want it. By utilising big-name tactics through a convenience store lens, brands could make more than an impact. They could make a connection. A bond.