Convenience stores operate physically and psychologically at the heart of communities. No other business sector has the reach into these communities that local shops have. Because of this, we have played one of the most important roles in responding to the crisis. Customers have needed and used us more, and local store owners have had to quickly adapt to make sure that they can continue to serve their communities while keeping their colleagues and customers safe.
Local shops are important to everyone, but particularly to more vulnerable and isolated households. For many they are much more than just a place to shop: they act as a community hub that people can visit to see a friendly face and have a chat. Findings from our Community Barometer show that local shops are viewed by consumers as one of the top three services for reducing loneliness in local areas, due to their social nature.
We also know from the Local Shop Report that 72% of customers either know the people running their local shop well, or at least have the odd friendly conversation here and there.
At the beginning of the outbreak, the Government instructed us to stay inside as much as possible. We were no longer able to visit loved ones, leaving many feeling lonely and isolated. Millions of clinically vulnerable people across the country were also required to shield, meaning they were unable to leave the house and urgently needed a solution for sourcing food.
Local shops could no longer support their communities just by being open; they had to adapt their range to provide more food and other essentials. And they had to change some of the ways they operated.
Our research has found that since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, local shops have been making over 600,000 home grocery deliveries per week. These deliveries have been crucial for local people – especially for those who are self-isolating, elderly, or otherwise unable to leave the house. For most local shops, this was a totally new service offering, and systems were put together for taking orders, receiving payments, and physically delivering products, all in a matter of days.
Speaking to retailers in our sector we have heard that one of the most popular volunteer posts is the person standing outside the shop checking on the queues because it allows them to have a chat with local people, often picking up on issues and identifying more ways the store can help; whether through deliveries, ordering different products or addressing concerns over safety. The gradual easing of restrictions will increase this support further as colleagues will be able to engage more and more with their customers.
Local shops are lifelines for the communities that they serve, this is especially true in times of crisis and disruption and we are proud of the positive role that our sector plays in tackling loneliness in their communities.
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