Taking stock of local retail

Local neighbourhood

The second edition of the Scottish Local Shop Report is now in the hands of ministers, stakeholders and store owners across Scotland. The document had a parliamentary launch recently at Holyrood, and it has proved essential reading up and down the corridors of power.

Keeping track of stock and shopper trends is second nature to store owners around Scotland, but pulling together the extraordinary volume of data for the Scottish Local Shop Report takes the science to another level. Surveying 20,000 shoppers provides the sort of representative sample that makes the figures and findings both robust and reliable.

That sample comes from across the entire adult age range and the findings are presented graphically within the Report to make it an easy, at-a-glance fact file. The Report helps reinforce the fact that Scotland’s convenience retailing sector plays a huge part in the overall Scottish economy.

Scotland’s 5,324 convenience stores are spread out across every community – even though the total number of businesses has declined by almost 300 in the past 12 months, giving real weight to the alarm raised over the pressures faced by the convenience sector.

The credibility of the report is backed up by a two-month campaign of face-to-face interviews, conducted across the country, to support both the Scottish and UK versions. Several hundred Scottish convenience stores take part, and Scottish shoppers are about 10% of the 20,000 customers interviewed in what retail market researchers him! term ‘moment of truth’ shopping decisions in-store. “Most are incredibly happy to share their thoughts about the store, their shopping habits and needs, which demonstrates how important their local stores are to them,” said Katie Littler of retail research consultancy him! “The stores we visit are chosen to be representative of the convenience industry as a whole, representing managed, franchised and totally unaffiliated stores, stores of all sizes and different geographical locations. The information we gather, straight from shoppers’ mouths, gives an honest, robust and representative read of the convenience shopper.”

Reassuringly, the Report confirms that Scotland still leads the way in terms of consumers’ affinity with the convenience channel. Nowhere in the UK is there a greater reliance on the sector than right here in Scotland. A store for every 995 inhabitants remains marginally ahead of Wales (one shop for every 1,001 people in the Principality) but far ahead of any region of England, where provision drops as low as 1,481 people per shop in the South East and, in a similar size of industry, over 400 shops have been lost in the past year. From the Report it’s clear that the issues facing the convenience sector in Scotland are not unique.

Closures in the abstract may seem like the natural business cycle, since overall figures represent a net turnover of store closures and new openings, but the Report highlights the stark reality of around 2,500 job losses in the sector in the last year, from a total workforce of now 42,000. In any of the monolithic industries this would be headline news, but the diverse nature of the convenience sector is undoubtedly the reason why such a harmful degradation of the career prospects of so many Scottish workers has been neither reported, nor addressed.

“It’s by highlighting important issues like the size of the workforce and its importance to the national economy that makes the Scottish Local Shop Report such a vital resource,” said John Lee, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at the Scottish Grocers Federation, the body behind the Report. “It supports initiatives like the Cross Party Group on Independent Convenience Stores at Holyrood, which give the sector a unified voice, right in the heart of the government. The CPG, while still in its infancy, nevertheless benefits enormously from having the Report as a ready reference work, to help inform the debate and give the political representatives on the Cross Party Group the briefing that they need to contribute to the debate, and, ultimately, make informed decisions.”

It could be argued that the sector is doing more than its fair share to cement the fabric of society. Family businesses makes up roughly half of the entire sector, and more than one in eight businesses are run solely by family members. Women are nearly two-thirds of the workforce, and 10 percent of shop teams are aged over 60. These figures are all the more significant when placed alongside the relative value of the sector – £532m in gross added value, representing seven percent of all Scottish retail activity.

As a work of reference, the Report serves its purpose extremely well, putting in context the key facts and figures from the sector, in an easily digested and palatable format. For interested stakeholders, it’s a revelation. It’s to the credit of the retailers who’ve taken part that the report is, once again, comprehensive. However, for those within the industry, the depth of insight is a valuable business tool, providing the sort of analysis that might otherwise be difficult and time consuming to compile.

The Scottish Local Shop Report 2016 is complied in collaboration between the Scottish Grocers Federation and the Association of Convenience Stores. The Report is available to download from the SGF website (www.scottishshop.org.uk), with the UK version from the ACS at www.acs.org.uk.