It’s time for Scottish retailers to carry on the progress made during the coronavirus pandemic, writes Scottish Grocers Federation chief executive Pete Cheema.


”The move to shopping locally seems to have been accompanied by a desire for local produce”

Such has been the shock of the COVID-19 crisis that society, businesses, consumers and the economy must change. There can simply be no going back to the way things were. At least that is what we are all telling ourselves.

But how true is it? Within a nanosecond of lockdown restrictions being eased, people were flocking in their thousands to Ikea and Primark, in some cases this involved being willing to stand patiently in a queue for up to four hours. Human nature often prefers the familiar, the comfortable and it goes without saying that forming an orderly queue is a great British tradition. But this does beg the question: in the post-crisis landscape will we see as much continuity as we see change?

We might have some data points to guide us. Over March and April of this year, the convenience channel grabbed 30% of the total market share (twice that of the discounters) with a sales uplift of 10%. We can also see that consumer spend on delivery services was 15% higher in the year to April 2020. The number of transactions per customer increased by 10% across all delivery services. The move to shopping locally seems to have been accompanied by a desire for local produce – research by HIM shows that 66% of convenience store customers are more likely to buy something if it is locally sourced. So we can see a rough sketch of the potential future for convenience stores; shoppers have embraced shopping locally, they do want to buy good quality locally sources produce but on top of this there is a big demand for delivery services, perhaps to reduce the need for physical visits to the store in what’s likely to be a socially distanced world.

There is another crucial element to add to this. In Scotland there is no doubt that there is a societal recognition that convenience retailers have really stepped up to the plate during the current crisis. This has created massive amounts of goodwill and kudos for the sector, particularly amongst key policy and decision makers. Retailers – supported by their trade bodies – now have a once-in-an-era opportunity to shape the future for themselves. Let’s seize the day.