Recent research throws new light on the differences between shoppers at urban and rural c-stores. David Rees takes a closer look.

One of the essential skills of being a neighbourhood retailer is to know your area and your customer base, but putting this knowledge into practice in a systematic way is far from easy.

A central problem is getting the right products in the right pack sizes for your area. Many of the people making decisions about how products should be marketed have a perception of convenience retailing based on a gleaming urban environment - a world away from a small village store that has to provide the food needs for an entire community.

But recent research carried out by SPA on behalf of consultants SRCG will go some way to correct these views. It proves that shoppers in urban, suburban and rural areas are substantially different and are therefore using their local shops in entirely different ways.
SRCG’s research defines three types of location - core urban, outer urban and non urban. Core urban encompasses key urban centres such as London and Birmingham; outer urban includes traditional suburban and residential areas, while non urban stores are those in small towns and villages, typically with strong links to the countryside.

Whereas urban c-stores reflect a fast pace of life, with a large number of single-person households and customers who eat on the go, residents in outlying areas have much more family-centred lifestyles where eating in the home is central and shopping trips are more likely to be planned. In non-urban environments, not only do people eat more in the home, they are also more conservative about food tastes. These shoppers also tend to retain a strong belief in specialist retailers such as butchers and bakers and are generally more concerned about the impact of mass-produced food on local producers.
Their attitude to the big retail players is mixed, with a positive reaction for rational benefits such as consistency, quality and value for money but also emotional concerns about how big corporate brands might affect their communities.

In outer urban areas shoppers are more likely to be female, not working and with children. This gives them a well-defined set of priorities when it comes to food shopping, with value of much greater importance.

Contrast this with urban convenience shoppers, who tend to be workers with no kids, a high proportion of them men. Shoppers here are more ‘selfish’, so c-stores have more opportunity for a mood-driven and impulsive product offer.

This is borne out by the typical basket shop in each type of store. Take-away lunch products are bought by 17% of urban shoppers but only 5% on those in the country, while washing powder and household cleaners are bought by 13% of non urban c-store shoppers but only 2% of those in the cities. Dairy products are brought by 21% of people in urban stores but by 45% in rural outlets.

Car usage is an important distinction when comparing urban and rural shoppers. In urban areas, 62% of shoppers walk to the store, while 25% use public transport and only 8% drive. In outer urban and non urban locations, usage of public transport is almost non-existent and the car is king - 53% of non urban shoppers travel to the store by car.

In summary, core urban shoppers are more likely to require food for now and snacking; outer urban shoppers use c-stores for distress/top-up when they run out; while rural shoppers cite ‘regular needs’ as their main shopping mission. Urban stores tend to be busy during the week rather than at weekends while in other areas, the majority shop not at specific times but ‘when they run out of something’.

The findings are to be debated this week at a summit of executives convened by SRCG. It is to be hoped such meetings will improve understanding of both urban and rural retailers, and allow both to flourish as a result.


Core Urban - ‘Life on the go’
Buys prepared foods in the week, cooks from fresh at weekend

Adventurous eating habits, often on the move

Little planning goes into shopping

More likely to buy lunch to go, savoury snacks

Less likely to buy canned food, household cleaners

Outer Urban - ’Frantic Family’
Family focused

Rely on their cars

Focused on provisions

More likely to buy dairy products, news & mags, alcohol

Less likely to buy food to go

Non Urban - ‘Back to basics’

Focus on eating and entertaining at home

Conservative food tastes

Support local producers

More likely to buy canned food, washing powder

Less likely to buy savoury snacks