Although 80% of independent retailers are willing to help the Competition Commission with its grocery market investigation, almost half have never even heard of the current probe. These are some of the startling findings of The Grocer's latest reader panel survey.
Unsurprisingly, 100% of retailers questioned feel that the major supermarkets have an unfair advantage.
Many feel that talking to small, independent retailers is the only way the Commission would see the true picture of what is happening in the market. "They need to get out and talk to real people about it," says one shop owner.
"They need to see what effect the buying power of the supermarkets has on us," says another. "There was all that publicity the other month about happy hours in pubs being blamed for unruly behaviour and drunkenness, but the government doesn't stop the supermarkets selling cases of lager for less than ten quid," he adds.
Yet another says: "The Commission needs to see how tough it is to run a small shop when you've got a Tesco Express up the road."
In July, officials leading the Competition Commission's inquiry were considering ways to extract commercial information from small retailers who own just one store. Many worried about low response levels and whether smaller independents had the resources to fill in complicated or detailed questionnaires.
However, two thirds of the retailers contacted by The Grocer say they would have the time or staff to respond to the Commission if they were approached. "Of course I would respond," says one retailer, while another says that he would make time because the issue is so important.
Some suggest that the Commission could tailor the information to the smaller shop owner by making the questions multiple choice, for instance.
The Association of Convenience Stores is developing a business model designed to determine the effect of the major multiples on unaffiliated c-stores to combat fears that this sector will not be heard ('Small retailers to get inquiry vote', The Grocer, 5 August, p7) .
There is much cynicism among respondents as to whether their evidence would make any difference to the investigation, with nearly 40% believing it would make none whatsoever.