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Sunday Soundbite

What does convenience really mean?

Chris Field
Chris Field

Holidaying in the west of Ireland, I am reminded that the Irish do convenience well.

In fact, convenience characterises retail here, where so much of the population relies on the lowly petrol forecourt to fulfil a breadth of needs quite different from those in the UK.

Lidl, Aldi and Tesco are still in the ascendant here, but convenience outlets are around every corner; even if the choice can be very limited compared to what today’s UK shopper expects.

Given the unique culture, geography and infrastructure of Ireland, it seems naive to assume that what works here will work back home – but there is one essential ingredient of Irish convenience retailing that UK retailers will need to embrace.

And that is community involvement.

The best UK store managers are already being good local citizens, but as competition in convenience increases, they will need to get a lot better.

It’s about going much further than simply giving to local charities or sponsoring a local youth football team; I’m talking about retailers using customer data to geolocate and then build special rewards for loyal and/or high-spending customers.

I live in the middle of nowhere, but I’m still within four miles of five major grocery outlets. And I might as well not exist to any of them.

After eight years, I am still a perfect stranger. If all the major grocery brands want to make the most of my little-and-often shopping habits by opening smaller outlets and going on sprees to acquire each other, then I would expect a bit more personal attention.

I think that their ability to find and reward me will be a big competitive differentiator, because right now any loyalty once forced on me by a lack of local outlets has vanished in the face of overwhelming choice.

I’d be glad of any feedback to show how retailers are moving in this direction, but I see no evidence at all. I am a ghost in the machine, not a valued and familiar customer.

Does any of this matter? The retailers are currently trying to rebalance for the new consumer, getting the mix of big shop, convenience and online right. This brings the consumer greater choice, which is primarily what they seek – but surely all they are doing is going multichannel again?

As a customer, I want an omnichannel approach that enables me to shop according to my needs and tastes without having to make more trips. Little and often should not mean a return to the old retail model that worked in a world where everyone had more time on their hands; I want a shopping experience built for me, combining all channels to market in just the right way.

That’s what convenience means to me, and I see that we’re a long way away from it.

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