FT - James Lowman, chairman, ACS

ACS chief executive James Lowman

Convenience retailers have invested £646m in the past year to provide a wider range of services to their customers and to make a positive contribution to their communities, according to the 2023 Local Shop Report.

The report, published by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), provides a comprehensive analysis of the convenience sector over the past 12 months looking at colleagues working in the stores, retailers’ investment decisions, the products and services being offered and the impact that local shops have on the communities that they serve.

Convenience retailers have continued to make significant investments into their stores to diversify the breadth of services that they offer. Findings from this year’s report show that convenience retailers have invested £646m in their businesses over the last year, and of those investing the top areas of investment are refrigeration (56%), shelving (39%), store signage (33%), in-store lighting (32%) and technology (29%).

Convenience stores provide local, secure and flexible jobs to over 437,000 people and as staff shortages ease retailers are employing more people for more hours. Over the last year colleagues in the sector worked a combined 12.1 million hours a week.

Key figures from this year’s report include:

  • the convenience sector generated over £47.1bn in sales over the last year, with that figure set to grow to over £50.9bn by 2026;
  • 70% of stores in the convenience sector are run by independent retailers, either as part of a symbol group (31%) or unaffiliated (39%);
  • 79% of independent retailers engaged in some form of the community activity over the past year;
  • a quarter of customers come from half a mile or less and over half of customers (57%) walk to store; and
  • 36% of customers know the people running and working in their local shop very well or quite well.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “Local shops operate at the heart of the communities, constantly adapting and evolving to meet the changing needs of the local population. As well as food and drink, convenience stores provide services like bill payment facilities, parcel services and access to cash through hosting most of the UK’s Post Offices and through other partnerships. We fill in the gaps by providing services that have been lost as specialist operators close, where our communities cannot sustain lots of different standalone services, or where we see an opportunity to provide something new to our customers.

“No business sector is more in tune to the way our communities are changing, and no business sector operates in more communities than convenience stores.

“Convenience retailers have invested hundreds of millions of pounds and countless hours to make a positive difference in their communities, despite the challenges that they have faced in light of the energy and cost of living crisis. This year’s report serves as a reminder as to the significant contribution that these businesses make to not only the wider economy but the people working in and visiting these stores.”

The 2023 Local Shop Report has also revealed significant growth in the number of retailers that are using social media for their businesses. With more products and stores going viral over the last year, there has been a clear shift towards activity on platforms like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Tiktok to engage with customers. This could be linked to the changing profile of convenience store owners, which is becoming younger, including more women, and more likely to include first-time investors coming into the sector, as well as established family businesses.

Lowman continued: “We are seeing a sector led by innovative businesspeople drawn from every demographic and with their eyes firmly on the future.”