The research, based on a total of 1,100 responses from questionnaires filled in by Convenience Store readers and interviews carried out in stores and at cash and carry depots, shows that 64% of independent c-store owners believe they offer a genuine service to their community, which would suffer if their shop was not there. As many as 95% say their shops are important for the elderly to do their shopping.

The survey has been released to emphasise the 'human' side of independent retailers' attitudes in the run-up to National Independents' Day on June 1, and paints a picture of the local store as the heartbeat of the community. 

More than half of retailers surveyed said that they shared the same concerns as their customers because they lived in the same community, and a similar number reported that customers visit their shop "as much for conversation as groceries".

Seven out of 10 independents believe their levels of customer service are higher than those at a large supermarket, while two-thirds cite the multiples' multi-million pound marketing budgets as a key concern.
The survey also identifies long working hours and the burden of red tape as major issues for independents.
MSYS chairman Alan Toft said: "This research provides overwhelming evidence of the value of the sole trader and family business to the local community. Let the giants fight among themselves for market share - they can never replace the local linkage and connection with the community that is an irreplaceable independent retailer community value."

Professor Alan Hallsworth of the University of Surrey School of Management analysed the results on behalf of the MSYS campaign. He said: "The results beg the question: 'What sort of society do we want to live in?' and illustrate clearly that local shopkeepers know and help their customers.

"Independents are a vital fabric of our collective community and business heritage; proud of what they do both commercially and socially, entrepreneurial and resilient in spirit and hard-working beyond question.
"Local stores provide a community hub, and even a social support system, particularly for older groups of society. 

"In this context it is important to remember that old people living alone are the single fastest growing demographic group in Britain - and for many, the local shop may be their only point of social contact from one day or week to the next.

"This research makes it clear that what independents provide every day for millions cannot be replaced by the big four. 

"It is not entirely down to the continued rise of the supermarket, or even government policy. There is a very real role that we as consumers can play. 

"Just by calling into one more local shop than consumers already do will generate an extra 60 million shopping trips. This report shows that we will lose if we do not take action of our own."