Most people who know me are aware that I have a soft spot for the traditional corner shop or, more specifically, newsagents and convenience stores. In part, this is because they are an integral part of many communities. It’s not just about being open all hours, it’s about the very special customer relationships a damn good c-store can foster, along with the accompanying sense of community. For some customer groups, the morning trip to buy a newspaper or a pint of milk – yes, people do still do that! – can be a socially vital experience.
There are vulnerable populations for whom buying that paper/milk can sadly be the only interaction with another human being that day and, very often, it is the local shopkeeper who raises the alarm when Mr Smith or Mrs Jones suddenly stop popping in for their Daily Express. These aspects of the c-store are invaluable and yes, I am biased, it was my own business for many years in the days when I had a “proper job”, rather than being an academic!
It’s sad to see the growing number of c-stores and similar local shops closing, especially those on housing estates of all shapes and demographics where their social capital is perhaps at its most beneficial. I love working with the smaller retailer, looking for ways to survive and prosper alongside the big players.
In my view, shopper marketing may well prove the secret weapon of the small retailer, whether truly independent or as part of some franchised chain. Shopper marketing is all about placing emphasis on the person doing the shopping, whether for themselves or for others, and using subtle little hooks and nudges to both stimulate sales and create a sense of loyalty – exactly what the local corner shop needs! And it needn’t be an expensive strategy to adopt. Most shopper marketing tactics are relatively easy to adopt and cost-effective, especially where key suppliers and wholesalers are willing to lend a hand.
We only have to look across the pond to see what the big c-store franchise chains are doing to get a sense of what is possible. Circle K, for instance, achieved really impressive sales increases simply by placing a renewed emphasis on the role of displays in stimulating cross-selling opportunities (e.g. siting soft drinks, candy bars and cakes together), while drinks manufacturer Rockstar have partnered with chains such as Speedway to breath new life into the c-store format with exclusive flavours, low-cost online brand sites and funky can-shaped drinks coolers that the large supermarket chains just can’t have. And that one-time most ubiquitous of chains, 7-Eleven partnered with suppliers such as Coca Cola to develop an inexpensive “augmented reality” app that uses all kinds of interactive content to build unique relationships between customer, retailer and brand.
The motto here? C-stores can survive and prosper, despite the harsh economic environment they must now contend with. Simple nudges and a little more thought into the products stocked and how they are presented is part of the answer, buy-in from major brands and key suppliers can help lift that approach to a new level. And it is important that this happens – these aren’t just socially vital retail outlets, they remain a massive sector of the economy too. It’s profitable for big brands to support them, not simply a nice thing to do.