Rural British village store

Source: Getty

The importance of rural shops to their communities during the Covid-19 pandemic has been highlighted in new research published by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).

According to the 2021 ACS’ Rural Shop Report, more than a third of the UK convenience sector is made up of rural shops, often trading in isolated locations with no other businesses nearby. Between them, these shops provide employment for over 126,000 people and generated £16bn in sales in 2020.

The study found that one in five consumer felt that they depend on their local shop more now than a year ago while more than half of rural consumers (53%) feel their local shop is important to their community or local area. More than a third (37%) said they visited their local convenience store more than this time last year.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops have been absolutely essential to their communities over the last year, helping customers to shop safely and putting in place new services like home delivery to support those who aren’t able to get out to stores. The message from this year’s report is that rural shops have become even more important during the Covid pandemic, retailers now have even closer relationship with their customers, are employing more people, are taking part in even more community activity, and offer a range of wider and more powerful range of services than ever. These businesses have been crucial at a time when more people are feeling isolated due to the pandemic.”

The report also highlighted that if their local shop was no longer there, 28% of customers would have to travel more than five miles to their next available store. This coupled with the fact that 26% of shoppers visit their store every day highlights the importance to a community that rural shops have.

Lowman added: “Despite still being hampered by less reliable transport links, patchy mobile connectivity and slower internet access compared to the rest of the UK, rural shops are investing in technology and services to improve their businesses and their offer for customers, but we need more support from Government to ensure that rural shops are not left playing catch up through no fault of their own.”

As part of the Rural Shop Report launch, James Lowman took part in a virtual study tour with Christine Hope from rural shop Hopes of Longtown. The study tour video is available here: