The retail landscape has changed dramatically in the last two decades, especially when it comes to food retailing. In the nineties, companies went head to head buying large plots of land to host large scale retail outlets. For a time, more effort was placed on securing land from competitors than on the retail offering itself.
This started to change with the purchase of London newsagents T&S by a wholesome London market retailer named Tesco. It seemed a strange purchase, going back to its routes, but in essence it was 5-10 years ahead of its competitors.
Tesco realised the market was saturated and made a leap of faith. Shortly after, Sainsbury’s followed suit and more recently so has Waitrose. Even the likes of Morrison’s who promised never to enter the convenience market have changed their mind.
So that means pretty much all of the big chains have solved the convenience market, right? Wrong.
As I see it, this is only one third of the prize and the rest of the pot is hiding in the corners of consumer insight innovation. We can split the convenience offering into three parts. Part one is the simplest – a convenient location. Most, as discussed, have nailed this by situating their stores next to hotels, in train stations and petrol stations, and everywhere in between. Funnily enough, the Co-op is now in a better position by having at least one store in every postcode. Their inability to translate their power into a large format retailer in the 90’s may have been for the best.
The next two are harder to crack. The first one is convenient formats. This is not a completely untapped market; however, most have only dipped their toe thus far. Smaller portions, smaller quantities and less visual impact in store space are not hugely attractive offers to most manufacturers as this adds complexity in the manufacturing operations and their supply chains. More pack sizes, different pack formats and more complex distribution networks all point away from convenience specific products. However, there is a mammoth change in the way consumers shop. The social demographic of populated areas is changing. Consumers are smarter and savvier and if we decide not to offer what they need then we are missing out on a massive opportunity. A smaller portion of milk may cut it but the 2ltr bottle of washing up liquid will still make people jump in their car and drive to the overhead intensive large format retailer on the weekend. Worse still for the multiples it may even force consumers to take a little trip to a high quality German discount retailer…
Companies have started to answer the simpler questions; which size of chicken do customers want and where do they want to pick it up? We have matched the size and quantity of our offering to match consumer NEEDS.
So what’s next? It is simple (in principle)…pure product innovation. No longer giving customers what they need but what they WANT.
Not only are customers more savvy but they are more demanding and time poor. How many people want to go to their local convenience store after work, travel home, marinate some meat for 2 hours and then cook a stir fry? Some, but these are the minority, those who have a love for cooking and the luxury of time. And besides, these people are more likely to travel to the larger format or luxury stores to buy their food. The people we need to target are those seen dashing to catch their train/tube/bus as they don’t have time to wait for the next one; they’re still clutching their flaked Alaskan salmon with soy, mirin & ginger in a small (free) lime green bag though. They love good food but don’t have the time to craft it themselves. What does a Tesco metro or a Morrison’s local have to offer them which isn’t in their normal stores? Not a great deal.
Manufacturers and retailers need to offer more to reap the potential rewards of the convenience market. Not higher quality ready meals or smaller packets but a different offering for people who WANT something different. Satisfying those customers who say ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if…’ may be the final nut to crack and those who manage to achieve this task are those who will buck the trend of declining sales by removing themselves from the race to the bottom.
The aim of a Convenience retailer needs to be offering the same standard of living for its customers but not at the expense of time and effort.