Could Coronavirus Lead to a Revival of the Corner Shop?

Bare supermarket shelves at the start of the coronavirus crisis sparked despair in many of us, but the experience might have taught something valuable – how much we rely on our corner shops

Lead image: BSVIT / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The shop, the corner shop, the convenie, the offy, the little shop down the road… call it what you may, but the convenience store has always been just that – convenient. And while supermarket shelves were stripped bare as people prepared for lockdown, many of us turned to our corner shops to find those elusive bags of pasta and loo roll.

So what’s the future for the convenience store? Has this reignited our appreciation for ‘the corner shop’, and indeed the ‘shop local’ philosophy we enthusiastically apply to bakeries, cafes, restaurants and lifestyle stores? And can tech play a role?  

There’s an app for that

Will Broome, CEO of retail shopping app Ubamarket, thinks there’s a great opportunity for convenience stores to sustain this boom beyond the coronavirus outbreak.

In recent years, we’ve generally eschewed the local shop in favour of the big supermarkets, where the choice is greater and the prices, generally, lower (who can resist a multi-buy?). 

But this trend has done a complete 180 the last month – figures from the Retail Data Partnership shows that convenience stores have on average posted a 35% year-on-year sales increase, with the average basket spend increasing by more than a quarter since 9 March.

Now, convenience stores everywhere will be plotting ways to sustain and develop that boost in trade, and Ubamarket’s Broome believes they have a huge opportunity to develop their customer base if they are quick to embrace technology.

Should corner shops embrace more tech?

If an app made it easy to check the stock at your local corner shop, would you use it more? (photo: djedzura / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The Ubamarket app has a shopping list feature that will go great lengths to dispel the misconception that local shops only have the bare minimum on the shelves – shoppers will be able to see via the app that their local store has a huge variety of produce available; as well as more specific items that one wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in a convenience store.

Ubamarket’s mobile tech goes further to personalise and streamline our local shopping experiences, with features such as auto-shopping lists, aisle sat-nav, and till-less checkout for a more efficient transaction, as well as a more hygienic one, which is hugely important right now.

The community powered ‘shop and deliver’ app

And that’s not the only app helping us to shop local at the touch of a button. The community-powered ‘shop and deliver’ app Pinga is proving itself valuable during the coronavirus crisis.

Dubbed as the ‘Uber for everyday tasks’, Pinga is a relatively new peer-to-peer app, working along the same lines as Deliveroo or TaskRabbit.

The London-based app – launched by Walthamstow-based father of two Michael Goulden in 2019 – allows users to request items from shops, cafes or takeaways on their local high street.

Their request is broadcast to a network of Pinga Partners – local residents who’ve signed up to the service – and the first person to accept goes shopping on the requester’s behalf.

That could be anything from the milk you forgot to pick up in your weekly shop to medication that you’re unable to go out and collect. Whatever it is, it will be dropped off on your doorstep within one hour.

Invaluable during a period of self-isolation, no?

The in-app chat function allows both parties to keep connected throughout, in case alternative items need to be suggested due to stock shortages. When the task is completed, the recipient pays the Pinga Partner for the items, plus a delivery fee, directly through the app.

There is a delivery charge (negotiated depending on proximity, time of day and the number of items requested), but during the coronavirus crisis, Pinga is subsidising every delivery, reducing the delivery charge to £3.95.

Plus, like Deliveroo and Uber, Pinga offers super-flexible working opportunities to those who sign up as Pinga partners, providing both an instant income stream and the opportunity to deliver a vital service to their community.

So with the likes of Ubamarket and Pinga making our convenience stores even more convenient, and a renewed sense of community sweeping the capital, perhaps our corner shops will emerge from this crisis stronger than ever?