Independent store owners have been urged to improve or face extinction by retail guru Mary Portas.

Speaking at Palmer & Harvey trade show Pro-Retail, Portas urged convenience store retailers to focus on areas that the supermarkets couldn’t, such as customer service, in order to survive. “The bar has been raised so high and retailers cannot take business for granted,” she said. “They need to do things that the big chains can’t.”

Retailing is about personality and people will forgive the environment if the retailer offers the right customer service,” she said. “Most people want to have a social relationship with those local to them including shopkeepers, it is the heart of community-led retailing.”

Portas touted the idea of a quality benchmark among convenience stores where retailers could grade themselves based on customer feedback. However, she added that best practice guidelines would have to be determined before this could become a reality.

Consumer shopping habits are changing and retailers must adapt with them, she said. “With the recession, people will be taking economy and environment into consideration and high street retailers have the chance to capitalise on this opportunity.”

Portas added that although it was good that a minister for the High Streets has been appointed, it was disappointing that the government had failed to act on her recommendation that ministerial sign off be required for out-of-town supermarket developments.

She also has high hopes for the Portas Pilots scheme in which 12 towns across the UK will be selected to share a £1m fund to rejuvenate their high street. Over 400 towns applied to the Portas Pilots scheme and the selected towns are set to be revealed later this month. Portas said that even if some communities are not selected, she hoped there will be enough variation amongst the towns that every area can gain ideas from it.