The UK convenience sector is holding up well during the recession with channel sales up 6.1% and outperforming total grocery (Source: IGD Convenience Report 2009).

The latest results from HIM's Convenience Tracking Programme (CTP) are also good news for the sector, as shoppers are telling HIM that they are visiting c-stores as often as they did in 2008.

More positive news comes from the facts that shoppers are spending on a par with last year, the ratings of stores is up, and more new customers are visiting the sector.

Indications are, too, that there are also more customers visiting from stores' local catchment areas.

The CTP also tells us about shoppers' buying behaviour. The results show that what is clearly important to c-store shoppers has not changed dramatically in the past 12 months, despite the recession.

When we asked convenience store customers 'What must this store deliver against in order for you to be satisfied with your visit here today?' customers replied product availability, then staff friendliness and, thirdly, value for money.

These three top importances have not changed in the past 12 months.

However, there are some significant differences. Value for money has grown in importance by 4% (from 29% to 33%) compared with 2008. Consumers tell HIM that they will be shopping around more for the best prices and taking advantage of loyalty schemes and vouchers more in the

next 12 months (HIM Recession Study).

At the same time, the importance of promotions has dropped from 9th place to 11th place in 2009, meaning that promotions are now much lower down on convenience store shoppers' radar.

Speed of service has also become even more important to shoppers, significantly jumping up 9% from the 2008 figure (from 17% to 26%) to become the fourth most important requirement.

We know that shoppers are just as busy as they were 12 months ago, but now they are also becoming increasingly familiar with self-serve and fast-track till systems, enabling them to be in and out of a store as quickly as possible.

Not having to travel to the supermarket is still the fifth most important factor to c-store shoppers - in so many ways convenience is still key.

More insights from HIM's CTP 2009 will follow in later issues.