The evolution of the corner store: a new window for opportunity

In the UK, the common corner store is far different than what it was in the past. Not long ago, corner stores were primarily used only for small, infrequent purchases, while groceries and major household products were bought during weekly trips to large retail stores. However, as changing shopper habits and the pandemic altered the UK’s retail landscape, the function of corner stores has expanded beyond just a quick stop for a newspaper and bottled beverage. By evolving to offer a diversified range of products and services, corner stores have become an alternative to big box retail for today’s consumer to purchase their essential everyday items. As they continue to grow, integrating the use of technology into their internal processes will be essential for corner stores to expand their business capabilities and navigate new industry waters.

Originally, corner stores served as neighbourhood convenience grocers before the rise of supermarkets in the late 90s and early 2000s. Gradually, consumer behaviour shifted in the other direction, and rather than one weekly shopping spree, consumers started favouring two or three trips to smaller local stores due to an unbeatable convenience factor and value-based pricing. In turn, some supermarket giants have pivoted into the market over the last 10 years to compete with independent shops, which extensively augmented the corner store sector into what it is today – more than 46,000 shops that employ 405,000 people and earn combined annual profits exceeding 40.3 billion.

The current situation has only added more fuel to the fire. Most corner stores were among the few essential businesses allowed to remain open, and even as closings have been lifted, the industry has still experienced upticks in shoppers looking to avoid the crowds at larger stores. Considering a Covid-19 vaccine likely won’t be developed until 2021, corner stores will remain an attractive alternative option until the pandemic fully subsides.

There’s a generational component to the industry shift. The UK’s Association for Convenience Stores (ACS) reported that 63% of its customers are within the Generation Z, Millennials and Generation X age range (16-54) who all value time amid hectic day-to-day schedules. Corner stores have aligned with their expectations, offering grab-and-go snacks, made-to-order food service with plant-based and vegan-friendly options, quick automated self-check-out lanes and value-based prices. They’ve also catered to the environmentally conscious aspect of their young consumer base by promoting green initiatives such as waste prevention, reusable grocery bags and non-plastic water bottles, as well as partnerships with other eco-friendly brands. 

Moving forward, the rise of corner stores appears to be here to stay; however, this new era presents a new set of challenges that require innovation. As the evolution continues, business owners need to develop proactive strategies to meet increased inventory demands, satisfy rising customer expectations and streamline their operational efficiency -- three key components of maximising profit potential. That’s where advanced technology helps thread the needle. From providing actionable insights on inventory needs to keeping associates focused on the right tasks, advanced analytics can play an essential role in ensuring retail success.

In light of Covid-19, inventory management has become increasingly complex due to unprecedented demand fluctuations, which has amplified the need for stores to remain agile in order to adjust to changing inventory trends on the fly. With an advanced analytics solution, owners can make data-driven inventory decisions based on historical demand, sales trends, consumer preferences, store location and seasonality to align shelves, assortments, promotions and store layouts with future demand.

These solutions and their actionable insights also help corner stores make the most of the resources at hand. From a labour perspective, corner stores often don’t have huge staffs, typically only one or two employees at any given time. With so little labour, an advanced analytics solution will delegate the most important tasks to ensure they are allocating their time most efficiently. This includes scheduled tasks that consist of routine responsibilities (general store upkeep, sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, managing cash registers) and ‘smart’ tasks that are derived from data analysis. For example, when a popular item stops selling, the solution will flag it and notify an employee so they can quickly restock the shelf to avoid missed sales. The notification is considered a smart task.

The evolution of the corner store reflects a new wave of opportunity for the UK’s retail sector. With the implementation of advanced technology, store owners can make the necessary adjustments to successfully navigate the changing industry landscape of inventory performance and customer satisfaction to grow their profits and margins.