Ask consumers what they like most about the store they use on a regular basis, and the sad fact is that for the majority, it still boils down to one thing: convenient location. On the face of it, that is hard to understand, given we are very well served by retail outlets and can pick and choose where to shop. But research still shows it takes a lot to make us travel far to do our weekly grocery shop. As Waitrose's Mark Price says in our Saturday Essay, that is a sad indictment for everybody in retailing.
Still, credit where credit is due. Supermarket bosses are doing a lot to encourage consumers to switch allegiances. The battle for shopper loyalty has resulted in the development of some stunning store formats, for instance, and it has persuaded the supermarkets to develop in completely new channels such as convenience and the internet. There has been real innovation in terms of the way products and services are promoted to consumers. Oh yes, and it has also encouraged some retailers to continue investing in those fancy bits of plastic known as loyalty cards. But all of this is worth nothing when the people in the stores fail to deliver the right sort of service experience.
Nowhere is this more true than in the convenience sector, where location is the key factor in what persuades consumers to shop a particular store, and where friendly service tops their list of criteria for what makes for a great shopping experience. That is why finding the right staff and then keeping them is so critical ­ an issue we have explored this week with The Grocer Top 50 retailers.
Recruiting and retaining store staff is just as big a headache for the multiples, of course. A top executive tells me that one of his priorities is ensuring he holds on to his best staff while poaching his rivals' top people ­ so that his instore service remains unbeatable. He will not be alone. As everybody from small store operator to top multiple knows only too well, the search for real talent is getting harder. Those that find ways of attracting this talent ­ and then keeping it ­ will emerge as the real winners in the battle for shopper loyalty.