Belfast Telegraph

Supermarkets count the cost of new trend

By Frances Burscough

It doesn’t seem very long ago since I was writing an article about the decline of local shops in favour of giant out-of-town retail parks.

It was a huge talking point a few years ago, especially here in Northern Ireland, as stores like Tesco and Sainsbury’s started to spring up all over the country at the cost of many small retailers and corner shops.

But it seems that times they are a-changing, again. According to retail analysts, there’s been a marked increase in the profits of convenience stores, while supermarkets are experiencing a serious decline. So much so, in fact, that many of the big chains have stopped building new outlets. One of the main reasons for this, apparently, is that we no longer have the time to spend pacing up and down the endless aisles of megastores, or we’ve simply got sick and tired of it, so more people are shopping online for the bulk of their groceries and then topping up on fresh stuff at the corner shop throughout the week.

And I have to say, I’m one of them. I gave up on supermarket shopping myself a while back, but for a different reason — to try and remove the temptation of impulse buying.

A typical man goes into a supermarket, knowing exactly what he needs and where to find it. He will buy it and walk away, possibly stopping for a glance at Top Gear magazine at the checkout. End of story. A typical woman, on the other hand, walks into a supermarket with an empty trolley and cannot leave until it is full. I should know: I am that typical woman.

There may be exceptions, like there are to every rule, but I haven’t met any and there certainly aren’t any in my extended family.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a shopaholic, nor do I squander money on unnecessary luxuries. “Chance’d be a fine thing!” as they say. But I like variety and so each weekly shop is completely different from the last. It’s a blessing and a curse rolled into one that we are all adventurous eaters. On holidays abroad the kids would happily try every local delicacy from conger eel to jellied monkey brain. As a result I never tire of cooking for them. They appreciate variety so much. And that’s where the impulse-buying impulse comes in.

I browse my way down every aisle, from fruit and veg to hardware, without so much as a note or a shopping list, always on the lookout for something that’s new and interesting. A bit like Nigella but without the bottomless budget.

It was getting to the stage where a weekly shop for me, one (or two) sons and three dogs was well beyond a hundred quid — and that was before the extra treats like a new CD to play in the car or a bottle of prosecco.

So something had to give. Either that or I sold my children to science.

My solution to try and curtail the cost of living has been to do my shopping online and getting it delivered. Heck, I do everything else online, from communicating with family in England, to booking holidays, to Christmas shopping ... so it was an obvious progression.

Then, like the people in the survey, I just pop to the corner shop for fresh things like bread, milk and... er... cigarettes.

So far I’ve only tried out one online grocery retailer but I’ve saved myself wads of cash by simply removing the temptation to be experimental. I’ve also become more shrewd about special offers, as there are loads to be had if you shop this way.

Whereas in a supermarket aisle I would seek out what looks the nicest, tastiest choice from the items available, in the absence of all the extra stimuli I found myself making choices based on price alone. By the time my first

delivery arrived on my doorstep I had saved £20 simply by clicking on two-for-one offers. And now that the online shops have started to compete for business, the price wars that started in supermarket checkouts are now happening online, too.

So it seems like it’s good news for consumers and shopkeepers, but bad news for the soul-less retail parks that have been a blot on the landscape for years. For me, that can only be a good thing.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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