Patchy Recovery but Convenience Still Delivers

By Dan Munford   read

Western Europe fuel sales recover, but in the U.K. and Ireland large cities and public transport remain stranded. The convenience industry continues to show it can deliver on that most valuable of pandemic-era promises: clean stores.

September 03, 2020

As recovery from lockdown gathers pace in the U.K. and Ireland, Insight (through our online Global Convenience Store Focus and Shop Talk LIVE channels) has been diving deeper into the future shape of convenience and fuel retail as consumers learn to live with constraints that are becoming increasingly ingrained behaviours.

Prior to the pandemic, the U.K. and Irish fuel and convenience industry was already confronted with a triple disruption in energy, mobility and retail. The question in every CEO’s mind is: Will these disruptions accelerate, or is the future picture for transportation now more complicated? There are certainly some mixed messages.

What does the future hold for the city centre, with un-utilised public transportation and deserted locations? Figures compiled for Sky News reveal that worker footfall in Britain’s cities was just 17% of pre-lockdown levels in the first two weeks of August.

Office attendance has flatlined despite the government abandoning its work-from-home guidance on 1 August. Worker footfall is at just 13% in London, 14% in Cardiff and Edinburgh and 18% in Belfast. In London, the tube has recovered to -80% and buses to -60%! By contrast, smaller U.K. cities and large towns that are less reliant on public transport have recovered well.

Air transportation is also worth considering. Globally, last year there were 4.5 billion passenger journeys, but the skies above the U.K. and Ireland are now empty of vapour trails, and instead it is the roads that are full of stay-cation traffic. Convenience retailers in major city centres or located in major transport public and air transport hubs are having a very lean streak. By contrast, convenience retailers in the suburbs or on busy domestic holiday routes are enjoying bumper sales."

Overall, despite these very challenged locations, it would appear that fuel sales across the region were quite strong in July, according to PDI’s recently published Western European Fuel Sales data.


Apart from that, a big focus for the U.K. and Irish industry has continued to be on operations and what we call “The Psychology of Clean,” something we have picked up with outdoor cleaning specialists CAF in “The Global Forecourt Experience Challenge.” The work of frontline staff in our sector continues to defy all expectations, and the following customer feedback for Maxol’s Clarecastle site (operated by Aramark) really does sum up the achievement:

“I was in your store in this morning and after I left I felt the need to write this. I have been in this store once or twice before and always had a pleasant visit. Great new site with all new amenities, it really is a pleasure to stop here. During covid and lockdown obviously I have not been travelling as much until today. I have to say, I had a great shopping experience. From when I pulled up, to ordering food and getting my bits for my travels, I can't fault the service I received. 

Normally it would end there. Not today. I was very impressed at how staff are coping with covid. I must have seen 2 staff members if not more sanitising areas after people were finished eating. All customers and staff were wearing masks. 

The store was extremely busy, but it looked like all was under control, I even saw someone, think she was a manager standing at the door asking people to wait until some people had left the shop before entering. I felt very comfortable and safe in your store today and will definitely be back. 

Staff were very friendly and even helped me when I had to buy oil for the car and even offered to help me put it in. The food we got was so good and great value and for the times we are in I thought I would be paying a fortune. 

You have a life-time customer in me and my family. Please pass on words to staff as they deserve.”

Dan Munford is Managing Director of Insight Research, a UK-based international retail strategy and consulting business specializing in the convenience and fuels retail industry. With more than 25 years of experience in the global convenience and mobility retail industry, Dan is knowledgeable in multiple international markets, as well as skilled in retail strategy, research, business planning, event facilitation, event management and broadcasting. Dan is the NACS Regional Representative in the UK.

Questions or comments? Contact Dan at or #NACSGlobal.