SMALL independent shopkeepers matched the big guns of the sector in festive trading, despite the surprisingly strong performance unveiled earlier this month by the supermarket giants.
ScoScottish and English retail minnows have also revealed bullish investment plans for 2016 to try to boost their resilience. This is a similar to the way in which Tesco, Morrisons and Asda have been getting to grips with the threat posed by discounters Aldi and Lidl.
In unexpectedly robust trading over Christmas and the New Year, Scotland’s biggest supermarket group, Tesco, posted a 1.3 per cent rise in UK like-for-like sales.
Morrisons, the third biggest food retailer north of the Border, saw UK sales rise 0.2 per cent despite widespread expectations of a sales fall at the beleaguered group, while a festive sales fall of 0.4 per cent at Sainsbury’s was much better than anticipated.
However, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), which represents 51,000 members in the UK including 5,600 in Scotland, said while the festive feedback from its members had been varied, the overall picture had shown a decent out-turn.
James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS, said: “The feedback that we’ve been getting from retailers has been mixed, but on balance I think it’s been a positive period for the convenience sector.
“The period between Christmas and the New Year has been especially important for convenience stores, who have seen strong trade from customers who don’t want to venture out too far for their top-up shop.”
Lowman, who has been head of the ACS, the voice of local stores, since 2006, said the most successful outlets had been those “that have invested in their business over the past year to provide a great fresh offering”.
He added: “Our research shows that the sector as a whole has invested around £150 million per quarter in 2015, and we expect this to continue in 2016.”
The ACS said its latest figures showed that the investment level for its Scottish members in the most recent quarter totalled £17m – averaging out at a little more than £3,000 an outlet. One ACS source said the performance of corner shops north of the Border and in England had been similar.
“It has been broadly the same for the wider UK and Scotland,” he added.
He said that despite the overall positive performance convenience stores had been impacted as much as the big retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Next by the warmest December on record.
“About one in four convenience stores now do warm food and coffee as part of the offering, and obviously that does not do as well in warm weather,” he said.