If the independent sector’s goal is to stop shoppers going to the supermarket and keep them shopping locally, then what are retailers doing to ensure this happens? Toby Hill talks to three leading shop owners about how they convert busy shoppers grabbing distress purchases into basket-filling regulars

Sandeep Bains
Simply Fresh,
Faversham, Kent


Build a good own-brand offering

It’s vital to have a good own brand that people trust. Top-up shopping is all about customers being comfortable to buy right across your product categories – from chilled to fresh produce to tins and grocery – so you have to have an own brand they can rely on.

We introduced Co-op products into our store around a year ago and have definitely seen a good increase in our basket spend since. I would attribute that to the quality of Co-op products: I have to say we suffered in our days with Palmer & Harvey, whereas it has really picked up in the past 12 months.

Tailor your range to your customer demographic

Something we’ve struggled with in the past is having a big enough range to drive people through the store. You’ve got to get core absolutely right and make sure you’re not missing any key sellers. But as a small, local store, your biggest limitation is the amount of space you have. To get around that, you have to tailor your range to what your specific customers are looking for. 

In our case, we keep a close eye on planograms that come through from head office, and watch what customers are using us for. For example, we have a lot of ready meals because much of our trade comes from elderly people or transient customers who spend a lot of time commuting to and from work.

Tune your store into current trends

As well as getting core products right, you also have to meet people’s immediate needs, which are often driven by trends. We recently condensed our grocery – keeping the same range, but reducing the number of facings – and introduced a healthy snacking section. 

Generally, fewer people are eating three set meals a day, and are instead snacking on the go – and looking for healthy options as they do so. We’ve worked with suppliers like Epicurium to build up our range, asking for their bestselling lines: nuts, dried fruits, pretzel bites, kale and hummus chips, olives and so on.


Josie Chamberlain
Costcutter Codicote,

Offer full meal options

You’ve got to provide complete meals, which means quality fresh produce and fresh meat. People will base their meals around the protein and vegetables, and from there add the sauce and cheese and so on. 

We use meal deals to tie this together and give people ideas – we might offer fresh chicken, noodles and a bottle of wine for £10, or pasta sauce, mince and pasta for £5. Some offers come through Costcutter, and some we do ourselves, in which case we’ll make our own PoS to highlight it. We have also got rotisserie chickens for if people are looking for a quick meal solution.

Broaden your range with quality products

If people are going to trust your store enough to do a full-basket shop, you’ve got to offer some quality products that create the right first impression. We’re lucky in that we can use Co-op own brand, and we also look out for high-quality suppliers to add depth to our range. 

For example, we recently brought in some really nice pies from The Topping Pie Company. People are picking it up and commenting on the quality. It works: our average basket spend today is £6.43, which is up 15p from the same day last year.

Prioritise your fresh produce

The most important thing to do to convince customers they can do a full shop with you is have well-presented fresh produce. We’ve moved ours next to the door so as soon as people come in they see the lovely array of colours and fruit and veg. 

We keep it fresh by using a local supplier who goes to the market two or three times a week; we take deliveries little and often, almost every day, rather than weekly, which keeps it a lot fresher. You end up with some waste, but we’ll also use some of the produce in sandwiches, which helps keep the stock turning over quickly.

Wojciech Lorkievicz
Spar Greylees
Convenience Store,
Sleaford, Lincolnshire


Work with the right symbol group for your store

We have recently changed to Spar. We’re a large store and I want people to be able to use us like a supermarket, where they can do a full shop. Our previous supplier was struggling to deliver enough fresh products on time, and we kept finding ourselves short of stock. 

Now we’ve found Spar has better availability and a broader range of products. It’s a little more expensive, so it’s not for everyone. But it is working really well for us.

Personalise your customer service

If you want people to spend time in your store, you’ve got to create a good atmosphere and make it a pleasant place to be. It’s all about customer service: your staff have to be trained to listen to customers and to respond to whatever they ask with a smile. 

We have a lot of people in a rush on their way to or from work, and if you can make it easy for them to grab what they need for that night’s dinner and the next morning’s breakfast, they’ll come back again and again.

Offer as many services as possible

We opened the store four years ago: there was nothing on the site, so we have built it up from scratch. Increasingly, we have noticed people want to use us like a supermarket – that is the way it’s going, it’s not about just being a convenience store anymore. We’re a forecourt and we have also got car servicing on the same site. This gives us a big advantage in the current context. It adds to that supermarket feel that people can get everything they need here.