Those with the happiest workforces fare better in business, according to Mark Price, a former government minister and managing director of Waitrose – now a Lord. But the retail sector is next to the bottom out of 20 sectors surveyed for satisfaction and happiness.

Addressing retailers at this week’s ACS Summit - which ran alongside the National Convenience Show in Birmingham – he said building personal relationships was critical to success – 83% of staff left because they didn’t get on with their line manager.

“There is a strong correlation between how happy your workers are and how successful your business is,” he said. “According to all academic research, those with the happiest workforces fare better. Stats show they have 20% higher profits, 20% better productivity, 43% less waste, and lower staff turnover.”

He outlined six steps to high employee engagement: reward and recognition; information; empowerment; wellbeing; sense of pride; and job satisfaction. He said being heard was a particular area of concern in retail; and in general employees are told they are doing a good job just three times a year.

In a time of profound change everywhere – in politics, the convenience sector, retailing and consumer demands - as described by ACS chief executive James Lowman in his opening remarks, many presentations looked back in time to illustrate the speed of change and the many challenges retailers faced in the future.

One of those challenges is the ageing population, and Hidenori Tsunematsu, from Tokyo-based convenience store chain Family Mart, said: “With an ageing population, we have to change all areas of the business to meet their needs. Dementia support, tailored meals, home delivery and even offering franchise opportunities are all part of the service now.”

Paul Dobson, head of wholesale convenience at Morrisons, said being a truly convenient business means meeting the demands of modern consumers, using in-app technology to provide local deliveries within the hour, which the company is doing using Prime Now in selected areas.

There was much talk about technology and the ‘digital’ c-store, with technologies such as electronic shelf labelling enabling retailers to change pricing throughout the day; digital screens at the window to attract passing customers; in-store tracking to see where customers spend most of their time; smart stocking/auto-replacement systems and smart training systems.

Technology is advancing in lots of different areas of the store, but it can’t be fully effective unless it’s all connected, according to Mike Igoe, former commercial director of Heron Foods. “The internet of things, or the internet of everything is where stores should be looking now and in the future,” he said.

There was also advice from Jeremy White, executive editor of Wired magazine, about how using social media effectively, can drive sales. “But we’re still at that stage where a lot of companies say they’ve got to have a social media strategy before asking why they need one,” he said. “It’s knowing what to do with it which is the most important thing. A lot of companies don’t know how to engage.” He said social media strategies should be tailored to the needs of the business, and to a particular customer base, to be most effective.