C-stores – less convenience more destination


One of the big trends in retail over recent years has been the proliferation of convenience stores, and this sector is very much in the news with the potential takeover of various symbol groups by Tesco and Sainsbury’s.  So you might assume that it is a channel that has come of age, the hard work in development having been done, and now being the time to reap the benefits.

Certainly from a shopper perspective convenience stores are meeting an increasing variety of needs. No longer the stop gap solution until the next big shop, they have encouraged the little & often shopping trend, where shoppers fit household shopping around their busy lives buying as and when they need rather than stocking up for the next week or so.

And yet scratch a little deeper into this little and often trend and it becomes clear the hard work is only just beginning. A successful outcome will see C-stores become less about convenience and more about destination, but that requires a very different business model from retailers and supplier brands alike.

When Tesco first launched the likes of Metro and Express the ranging was rather like a super-scaled down version of their supermarkets. You would see 2 ltr soft drinks a couple of chillers down from 4 ltr milk, and adjacencies followed similar patterns to the larger stores. It was almost as if the scale had been adjusted on the large store planogram, and that was that. To be fair that worked for a few years. Shoppers loved having easier access to supermarket quality environments, ranges and services. But even in those early days there were rumblings about improvements: why use bulk buying promotions in a top up shop setting, I’ve probably walked from home so can’t carry 2 x 2 ltrs of Cola so that’s a really frustrating BOGOF; why have every pack size of standard milk, but no organic at all.

As this channel developed it became clear that the real opportunity for C-stores is unlocked when the individual sites are flexed to better suit the environment or context they are in. This has become even more important with the Little & Often trend. For these shoppers a key part of the trend is about picking and choosing the right stores for particular needs. Little & often shoppers tend to have wider repertoires, so when they are on a price sensitive mission they will head to discounters or supers, but when they are on an indulgence mission such as a nice meal in they are looking for a more premium or aspirational offer and environment. Equally, if they are on the way to work they want something different to when they are on the way home from work, or when it’s the weekend. It could be the same retailer they visit, but their missions, their needs, their mindsets are completely different.

Convenience as a sector has driven considerable growth in the grocery sector, now is when it needs to come of age. The agility that a smaller store format can offer is crucial – it means letting the store manager / staff drive the ranging rather than a planogram from head office. That way individual stores can meet the specific needs of their catchment areas, and reflect the role the store plays within its local context.

By Danielle Pinnington, MD at Shoppercentric.