Will local neighbourhood stores become the new post-lockdown High Street?

As we gradually get used to the slow easing of the lockdown, have local convenience shops done enough to earn a larger slice of long-term shopper loyalty in the new normal?

Research from Deloitte Digital recently spotlighted in Retail Gazette showed almost 60% of consumers used more local stores during lockdown. But as High Streets reopen, the big question for wholesalers and buying groups serving the convenience sector is what kind of product choice and prices will keep those shoppers coming back?

Before COVID, the general trend was toward the big weekly superstore shop and local top-up. During lockdown, local shops – along with online home delivery – became a lifeline. Hard-to-get items like loo paper, flour and pasta missing from superstore shelves were frequently still available in neighbourhood stores and independents. Smaller queues and the ability to maintain social distancing made shopping local a less anxious activity.

Sometimes forced by availability to try new and different brands (unfamiliar mouthwash or toothbrush logos anyone?) many discovered replacements for everyday household essentials just as good as those on their usual shopping list – and often cheaper.

Our willingness to get acquainted with new names behind non-food household basics at value prices took a leap forward during the last recession. Since then, thanks to the hard work of Aldi and Lidl, means brand snobbery has been replaced by greater confidence in the quality, performance and choice among less familiar brands.

With economic uncertainty ahead, that trend looks to continue. Consumers will be looking to local shops and neighbourhood outlets to step up and provide both a COVID-safe environment and real value alternatives to the superstores and the web. Everyday items need to match both their expectations and their pockets in an anxiety-free shopping environment where both the prices and the crowd sizes are smaller. Places where, unlike online, you know exactly what you’re taking home when you pay out at the checkout.

When mandatory-mask bus travel to shops makes many apprehensive, when high street toilets are closed, when social distancing actions in crowds can’t be guaranteed, continuing to shop local makes sense.

Local shops have always been in the right place. This could now be very much their right time.

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