Convenience alone won't guarantee success for c-stores

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It’s commonly assumed that Sainsbury’s is leading the pack thanks to its heavily Southern-based store estate. OK, so credit should also go to Sainsbury’s for its award-winning Brand Match service, its clever advertising and market-leading click-and-collect online shopping strategy. But a bit like Waitrose, it doesn’t do it any harm that its positioning coincides with a more affluent customer base.

Until this week’s results, however, I don’t think anyone quite appreciated how important its convenience store estate was. Without the c-stores, CEO Justin King admitted at this week’s interims, Sainsbury’s would have been “in slight decline,” he said, before hastily adding “though still better than our competitive set”.

We’ve all been aware that out-of-town big box retailing is under severe strain, as consumers seek to offset high petrol prices, and avoid temptation, with small-and-often spending patterns, supported by more online shopping. That’s hurt sales at Tesco and Asda. And it’s really only the conversion of Netto stores that’s kept Asda in touch with its rivals, while providing Morrisons with a further headache, as CEO Dalton Philips faces up to its want of a c-store estate.

” Convenience alone is not enough to guarantee success for c-stores”

Adam Leyland, Editor

So, as we report that Asda is trialling two standalone forecourt-based convenience stores, we’re taking with a pinch of salt its claims that it bought a forecourt across the road from its Leeds HQ to save staff money. Having a forecourt just across the road is a huge convenience (no pun intended) when you’re trialling an idea. Similarly, I fail to see how a click-and-collect trial would justify another convenience store.

But looking at The Co-operative Group’s recent results, it’s clear convenience alone is not enough to guarantee success. At a convenience conference this week, new Co-op head of commercial Ian Martin (ironically just poached from Asda), unveiled plans to roll out a 12-store trial to 500 stores. And in our feature on how to compete in the forecourt market, the likes of Euro Garages and Premier have made it plain: without the right products at the right price, convenience is worthless.

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