John Wood New customers are flocking to convenience stores because of a substantial improvement in standards, according to research released this week. The latest Convenience Tracking Programme study by Harris International Marketing shows the sector has gained 1.4 million customers a week over the last year, and with each customer averaging 3.7 visits a week, that represents an additional five million shopping visits every week. The study, carried out in four weeks in February-March, found 50% of the GB population visit a c-store or forecourt shop in a week, up from 47% last year. The sector attracts 100 million shopper visits a week compared with 60 million visits per week to superstores and supermarkets. HIM md Tom Fender said convenience retailers were receiving high ratings for customer service and staff friendliness and that the sector's "price image" had improved , Last year customers thought they were paying 22% more for products in c-stores over superstore prices, but this year it had fallen to 17%. Fender said the improvement had been sparked by existing c-store chains reacting to the challenge of new players such as Marks and Spencer's Simply Food and Sainsbury's Local. IGD unveiled its annual survey of the convenience marke which found the total market had topped the £20bn mark for the first time, with a total of £20.6bn, up 5.4% on the previous year. Co-ops showed the greatest gains with store numbers up 6.4% to 1,381 and sales up 12.7% to £1,162m. l See Opinion, p14. {{NEWS }}