Paving the way for electronic payment

More and more products will be delivered electronically in future, with c-stores as the point of payment, visitors to a seminar on the future of technology in convenience stores heard.

Nick Kennett of Epay explained that pre-pay debit cards, travel tickets such as London's Oyster card and new Lottery products are likely to bloom over the next few years. One example, the People's Postcode Lottery, was already proving popular in Scotland and the North of England, he said.

Manufacturers of computer software will deliver their products electronically, after customers have paid at a store and received a voucher for a download, he said.

In addition, an emerging trend will see customers who buy online but do not trust the security of payment via the internet using local shops to pay for their transactions.

"Lots of new products will be delivered electronically, based on a simple and reliable technology," Kennett said. As well as boosting cash flow and driving footfall, Epay terminals would offer big-screen advertising opportunities, he added.

Think local for a unique attraction

Independent retailers looking to make the most of their store were offered a wealth of information at the Local Marketing Masterclass with Federation of Wholesale Distributors' chief executive James Bielby. "Independent stores have a unique selling point and retailers should be promoting this in their communities," he said.

The My Shop is Your Shop (MSYS) campaign is designed to help retailers become a bigger part of the community and culminates in the annual National Independents' Week, where shop owners hold events to encourage people to shop locally.

The new MSYS mentors scheme was announced at CRS. Retailers who have already benefited from National Independents' Week will provide advice and guidance to other owners on how they can better promote their stores in the community. Bielby said he was "delighted that so many retailers who took part last year have volunteered to be mentors and help demonstrate the benefits of taking part".

With National Independents' Week looming, Bielby also unveiled a special in-store promotion for retailers to attract more customers to the store. Throughout the week, anyone who buys a copy of The Sun newspaper will receive discounts on other products from various leading brands.

Finally, to make MSYS a year-round initiative, new T-shirts will be made available to retailers free of charge from the FWD. Fans of the yellow T-shirts fear not, as they will still be used for National Independents' Week, which runs from May 31 to June 6.

New rules on alcohol, tobacco and batteries

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman talked visitors through some of the legislative changes that will affect business in the coming year. The recent "two strikes" rule for sales of cigarettes to under-18s could result in stores losing the right to sell tobacco for a period of time, which "is tantamount to closing down your business," he warned.

A new ruling will see stores required to operate an age-verification procedure for alcohol purchases. Lowman said that once such a scheme is established, it changes the culture around the sale of alcohol. "People expect to be challenged," he said.

However, selling to under-18s could result in a £5,000 fine and possible licence review, which could impose restrictions on the hours in which alcohol can be sold.

He reminded retailers that stores selling more than 32kg of batteries a year need to introduce a take-back scheme for all batteries, not just those they sell. He also told them to expect restrictions on the display of magazines with sexual imagery on their cover.

Train together, gain together

Retailers called for a more collaborative approach to training at Convenience Store's C-Store Champions event. "The sector needs to get together on this rather than everyone doing it on their own," said Kishor Patel, who owns eight Nisa stores across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

His views were echoed by Darren MacDonald, operations director at Bishop Retail, which has nine c-stores in County Durham. "What we really need is Spar, Mace, Musgrave all the independents getting together to create an industry standard," he said. "If we had an independent industry training board, it would be ideal."

Joining forces with other retailers also made financial sense, noted Londis retailer Steve Bassett, who owns three stores in Weymouth, Dorset. "Retailers need to gang together working as part of a group can spread the cost of training."

Attendees were inspired to discuss working in partnership after hearing a talk by Melanie Walker, learning and development manager at Blakemore's Spar Guild Academy. She explained how the Academy had successfully delivered training to 1,000 Spar staff across 135 retailers since its inception in July 2008.

What the customer wants in 2010

C-stores must "adapt like chameleons" if they are to meet the ever-changing needs of today's consumers, according to HIM's Andrew Brookfield.

He claimed that food to go shoppers, which make up 20% of the c-store customer base, and those shopping for a 'Meal Tonight', which account for another 4% were among the "key missions" for convenience store growth. "There's a perception that food-to-go shoppers only come into the store at lunchtime, but they are actually in and out throughout the day and retailers need to be ready for this."

Offering dining solutions, rather than just straightforward promotions, was a good way to encourage Meal Tonight shoppers, he claimed, advising retailers to take inspiration from M&S' 'Dine in for £10' and Sainsbury's 'Feed the Family for a fiver' deals.

Brookfield also highlighted the importance of using staff as a sales tool. "Some 14% of shoppers tend to buy products on promotion, but this figure increases almost three-fold to 36% when staff at the tills tell the customer about the promotion", he said. However, he claimed that it was a missed opportunity with only 2% of stores currently doing so.

Be vigilant as tobacco landscape changes

Retailers attending this year's Tobacco Masterclass were brought up to speed with the latest news on tobacco legislation by the Association of Convenience Stores' James Lowman.

The fact-packed session included updates on the government's plans for a display ban, and how it would affect store owners. They would need to be hyper-vigilant when the ban came into force in large stores in 2011 and in small stores in 2013, as Trading Standards would be looking for a couple of high-profile prosecutions to act as a warning to the trade, he cautioned.

However, retailers were also reminded of the Conservative Party's commitment to review the tobacco display ban legislation should it win the fast-approaching election.

Show visitors at the seminar were also given some insights into how the legislative land lay for the tobacco in the future. The issue would be front of mind for whichever political party made it into power, Lowman predicted, with new restrictions on proxy purchasing and a move towards plain packaging likely to be the key areas for debate and future action.