Shop Wars - Supermarkets vs. Independent Stores

Published: 18th January 2012
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The on-going battle between the supermarkets and independent local stores almost defines the 21st century shopping experience. There's no doubt that at present the supermarkets are winning. Between 1997 and 2002 50 specialist stores, including bakeries, butchers and newsagents closed every week. Over the same period supermarkets have gone from strength to strength as they strive to provide ever increasing convenience at the lowest possible prices. With all the benefits that the supermarkets bring it is perhaps not unreasonable to question the necessity of the local convenience store in modern Britain. But after looking at the pros and cons of both, you'll see we couldn't do without either.

Let's start by looking into the benefits of supermarket shopping. The key advantage they hold over all other shops can be summed up in one word; convenience. It is quite incredible that after a visit to just one store you can come away with enough food to keep your family fed and watered for months, almost all the the latest DVD's to keep them entertained, a new television to watch them on, even the family Christmas gifts. In fact it's probably quicker to list the items you can't buy in a supermarket these days than it is to reference everything they sell.

And it's not just variety that makes them super-convenient. The sheer size of each store means they're unlikely to run out of stock, even at busy periods. Unfortunately, the same can't always be said for independent stores. The fact that supermarkets are usually located out of town, is another advantage as it makes them easier to reach by car, speeding up the weekly shop in the process.

The ease of supermarket shopping is certainly key to its success, but it is fair to say most people visit primarily because they think it's cheaper, which isn't always true. There are certainly savings to be had at the larger stores whose greater financial clout allows them to offer multi-buy deals across the store, and slash the prices of certain products. However, if you have time try shopping around. Pick a selection of items available in both the supermarket and your local convenience stores and compare the total price of each shop. You might be surprised at how close it is.

And as far as convenience is concerned it isn't just the supermarkets that have a role to play. When it comes to doing the weekly shop it's certainly easier to jump in the car and drive to the supermarket, where you can find everything you need under one roof (albeit a very large roof). But it's important to remember that independent stores offer a different sort of convenience, that we'll certainly miss if they disappear completely from the high street. For example, say you decide to make a cup of tea, only to discover an empty milk bottle sat in the fridge. Surely it's easier to stroll into town to pick up a bottle from your local store than to jump in the car and head off to the supermarket?

Another nice feature of independent stores is that they tend to have a more welcoming and friendly atmosphere. They offer a more personal service to the customer, which tends to make them feel more homely. This is particularly apparent in small towns and villages, where the local stores are often the centre of community life.

It's quickly become clear then that it's not a case of one being "better" than the other. There are strengths and limitations to both types of stores. We wouldn't want to be without either, but unfortunately the days of independent shops do appear to be numbered. A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group from 2006 predicted that independent convenience stores could be a thing of the past by 2015, which would be massive shame.

So don't abandon the supermarkets altogether. That would be crazy. But be sure to remember the benefits of your local shops, and maybe drop in a little more often. Life without the traditional independent convenience store would, unsurprisingly, be decidedly more inconvenient.

Dave King is a copywriter with the funny gifts retailer Find Me A Gift.

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