Post offices have topped this year’s ranking of the services that have the most positive impact on a local area, according to new research from the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS).
Pharmacies and convenience stores closely followed in the second and third positions, with 39 and 35 per cent of the respondents respectively. Post offices have the backing of 44 per cent of the people in the 2023 Community Barometer report, released today.
The same three services were also rated highest among local people as the most essential, with pharmacies considered the number one most essential local service, followed by post offices and convenience stores.
The report looks at how people value the services in their area, what they would like more of, and how they would prioritise investment in their community. The report looks at a total of 16 different local services, including everything from petrol stations and pubs to takeaways and charity shops.
Speaking on the launch of the report, ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “UK consumers are sending a very clear message that a diverse range of local services are essential to the wellbeing of their communities. Convenience stores are increasingly acting as service hubs, including Post Office counters, prescription collections and banking services within their businesses, which are highly valued by their customers.”
Martin Roberts, group chief retail officer at Post Office, said: “I’m delighted that post offices have been recognised as having the most positive impact on a local area. Postmasters provide their communities with essential services, whether it’s banking, paying a bill, topping up gas and electricity cards or sending letters and gifts to loved ones. Consumers value face-to-face customer service and know that at their local post office they will be served by a trusted and knowledgeable Postmaster.
“Many branches are at the heart of the community and provide an opportunity to socialise helping to add to people’s general well-being. I’m grateful to Postmasters and their teams for all they do serving their communities and this report recognises their hard work and commitment.”
Commenting, Peter Batt, managing director of Nisa, said: “Today’s ACS’s report shines an important light on the value convenience stores bring to their local communities and on our high streets, a value highlighted by the pandemic and which has continued to grow; it is telling that the average customer visits their local store nearly three times a week, and younger consumers are shown to equally recognise their contribution.
“Nowhere is this more pronounced than when looking at the amount Nisa retailers have raised for their local communities, with £1 million donated to Nisa’s Making A Difference Locally charity in total last year. Particularly in today’s economic climate, an independent retailers’ unique ability to adapt their offering to fit the wants and needs of their local community is key, and it is vital that both consumers and the wider sector continues to support independent retailers, to ensure they thrive.”
This year’s report shows that more than half of people believe that it would be beneficial for their local area to have more banks, topping the list of most wanted services. This is followed by specialist food shops, and non-food shops like hardware stores.
The report has also highlighted the continuing importance of cash to local people, with only 8 per cent of people saying they never withdraw cash. The most common way that people get access to cash is through a free to use ATM in their local convenience store (60%), with around one in three (34%) able to get to a local bank branch to withdraw their money.
The Community Barometer report also looked at the way that different age groups feel about their local convenience stores and the value that they bring to their communities. In this year’s report, 18–24-year-olds were the most keen on having more convenience stores in their local area compared to other age groups, and were the most positive about their local convenience store being a community hub, reducing loneliness, and helping to keep people safe at night.
Lowman continued: “The importance of convenience stores to older customers is well documented, with stores acting as social hubs and a support network for those that are vulnerable or less mobile, but these figures show that on areas like reducing loneliness, local shops are incredibly important to young people as well. It’s encouraging to see the continued relevance of convenience stores to the next generation of consumers.”
The report has also revealed that two thirds of people (67%) would prefer to see investment in their immediate local area, compared to one third (33%) who want investment in their nearest town or city centre.
The top three areas of investment are public spaces, e.g. parks (1), community projects, e.g. youth centres (2) and better community policing (3). Among different age groups, the importance of community policing gets higher as people get older, with investment in that area the top priority for 55-64s and 65+ groups.
“Local people have a clear desire for safer neighbourhoods and more ways to spend time in their community with family and friends. The shift toward hybrid working patterns have led people to have more appreciation for the businesses that operate near them, and more demand for high quality local services. Local investment should be a key priority for the government as it moves forward with its levelling up agenda,” Lowman said.