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I am a child of the 1950’s and my memories of shopping during the early part of my life were of visits to shops with assistants behind counters. There are still echoes of this style of shop existing such as independent butchers, bakers and cheesemongers with their products on display in serve over counters.
When I started my working life in 1969 with WH Smith & Son they had most products on open display with only expensive pens in an over-the-counter display. They also had the customer service and record counters. Tesco had gone self-service and Sainsbury was the last supermarket to go down that road.
My first two decades had seen the end of rationing and huge strides towards the consumer society. I had also seen many ‘stores of the future’ being opened and superseded. I was reminded about the changes in retailing by an excellent recent feature in the new look Retail Newsagent.
Looking at our own retail channel we have been impacted by the two most significant changes that UK shoppers have experienced, self-service (and the huge growth of the supermarkets) and the rise of convenience. Bob Sperring brought the convenience store concept to the UK in the 1970’s and changed the game with the product categories his stores included and the longer opening hours.
My wife and I, like many newsagents have embraced convenience as a solution to the pressure on our former core products like newspapers and tobacco. We have added new products and services and gained a Post Office. We have regularly improved our store with more lighting, new fixtures and more space, but have we been creating our store of the future or just improving on the store of today?
It seems to me that the piece of the jigsaw that was missing from the RN feature was about the customer of the future. Communities change over time. In the 20 plus years that we have been running our store in a rural West Sussex village our customer base has changed as many have died or moved away and new residents have taken their place. We have also seen a steady increase in the number of homes in the village as new houses have been built. We have of course not been immune from the march of the supermarkets going from one smaller store 20 years ago to three within four miles today.
All of these changes impact what our store of the future should be, but the first need is to understand the needs of our customers today. Any of the stores on See My Shop are great examples of what the store of today should be like.
But how might the store of the future be different?