PayPoint takes a look back at the history of the convenience store in the UK


“Scanned directly from ‘Old and New London – Its History, its people and its places’, published by Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. 1878. Illustration of Waithman’s shop, 104 Fleet Street importers of Irish linen and calico prints.”

Since the Victorian age, the local corner shop has been a long standing feature of the UK’s retail scene.

Traditionally found at the corner of an intersection as the name suggests, corner shops played an integral role in Britain’s communities – their prominent locations remain key to their success. The shops were often family owned and founded by entrepreneurs. Many well-known high street retail brands, including Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, started off as family-owned corner shops.

Corner shops’ role in British retail underwent its first change with the introduction of self-service when customers were first invited to collect their own groceries in a basket. The format spread quickly across to the high streets, changing the way the nation shopped.

However, it was the arrival of American-style supermarkets in Britain, alongside the increased accessibility enabled by cars, which really shook the convenience sector. With the huge variety of low cost produce, corner shops struggled to compete and supermarkets quickly began to dominate Britain’s retail landscape.

In order to survive, some corner shops began to consolidate, but not all innovated quickly enough to keep up with the changing landscape. Once familiar names such as Fine Fare and Victor Value failed to keep up with the competition and eventually fell by the wayside.

Although the retail sector continues to be led by the big chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, resurgence in the convenience sector is also happening alongside this. By 2021 the convenience sector is expected to grow in value from £37.5bn to £41.9bn, showing a 12% increase.

According to research from Him!, the comeback of the convenience sector is a reflection of the changing shopping behaviour among consumers in the UK. An increasing number of people (38% in 2016) are living alone with a limited amount of storage space, which means fewer people are bulk buying for lack of a place to keep their shopping.

Alongside the rise of online shopping and the increasing options for click and collect, people are now more prone to doing a weekly grocery shop (online or in store) and topping up their supplies at a convenience store in between. An increasingly older population is also contributing to the rise of smaller, more frequent shopping trips.

While increases to the minimum wage as part of the living wage campaign, plus new regulations targeting tobacco and sugar, are expected to impact smaller businesses more than the supermarkets, it is a lack of advanced technology which is more likely to push independent retailers under the water in this cutthroat retail environment.

In order to continue the resurgence, independents can thrive by playing to their strengths. Providing a range of essential services such as bill payments, travel cards and money transfer is key to driving footfall. Of course, personal customer service can also make a huge difference and it’s something which supermarkets struggle to achieve. 

But perhaps technology is the tool that will really help level the playing field. The new PayPoint One platform enables retailers to provide a range of services in a seamless experience for both the customer and store manager. It means retailers now have access to the same level of technology that supermarkets use, such as EPoS and contactless card payments. PayPoint One is designed to help retailers run their whole store from one device, enabling corner shops to grow their business and remain an essential part of the local community.

Looking back at the recent history of the convenience sector and the challenges retailers face, it‘s clear that changes in technology will continue to drive disruption, but also opportunity. In order to be part of the community fifty years from now, independents need to adapt in order to remain competitive.

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(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)