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Grocary shopping behavior
Grocary shopping behavior

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Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 13 (2006) 381–392
Macro-level change and micro level effects: A twenty-year perspectiveon changing grocery shopping behaviour in Britain
Ronan De Kervenoael
, Alan Hallsworth
, Ian Clarke
Faculty of Management, Sabanci University, Turkey
Management School, University of Surrey, Guildford GU2 7XH, UK 
Management School, Lancaster University, UK 
In this paper we summarise key elements of retail change in Britain over a twenty-year period. The time period is that covered by afunded study into long-term change in grocery shopping habits in Portsmouth, England. The major empirical findings—to which webriefly allude—are reported elsewhere: the present task is to assess the wider context underlying that change. For example, it hasfrequently been stated that retailing in the UK is not as competitive as in other leading economies. As a result, the issue of consumerchoice has become increasingly important politically. Concerns over concentration in the industry, new format development and marketdefinition have been expressed by local planners, competition regulators and consumer groups. Macro level changes over time have alsocreated market inequality in consumer opportunities at a local level—hence our decision to attempt a local-level study. Situationalfactors affecting consumer experiences over time at the local level involve the changing store choice sets available to particularconsumers. Using actual consumer experiences thus becomes a yardstick for assessing the practical effectiveness of policy making. Thepaper demonstrates that choice at local level is driven by store
and that different levels of provision reflect
choice at the locallevel. Macro-level policy and ‘one size fits all’ approaches to regulation, it is argued, do not reflect the changing reality of groceryshopping. Accordingly, arguments for a more local and regional approach to regulation are made.
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Retail structure; Locality; Lifestyle; Grocery
1. Introduction
The opportunity to take both a micro- and macro-levelperspective on retail change is a challenging one: this paperattempts a perspective on a quarter century of retail changein Britain. Whilst there have been many thoughtful generalcommentaries on wider retail change (Dawson, 2000, 2004),studies that also focus on local effects and on observedconsumer behaviour are rare unless concentrating ondeprived areas affected by store loss. Change in consumerbehaviour can be driven by many factors: market competi-tion; response to consumer demand; outcomes of regulatorypolicy and so on. What has especially been neglected is the
impact of macro-level change on local (micro)areas and the effect of 
change on consumer choiceand behaviour (Clarke, 2000). To support our general-isations about change we will draw briefly on empiricalfindings from a research project on grocery shopping inPortsmouth, England. We view shopping as a wider socialpractice embedded in a defined social context (place andtime) rather than seeing each purchase as a unique decision.Our perspective, then, is of a symbiotic relationshipbetween consumer behaviour and long-term retail change.The consumer both affects, and is in turn affected by, thechanging retail scene. This approach is inevitably discursive,but can be organised around a number of subheadings:
Society, work and consumption;
Retail structure and in-store provision;
Local (micro-level) choice;
Retail change and legislation.
www.elsevier.com/locate/jretconser0969-6989/$-see front matter
2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.jretconser.2006.02.003
Corresponding author. Tel.: +441483686753.
E-mail address:
Senior fellow, Advanced Institute of Management Research (AIM).
Our research leads us to question if retailing in Britain isregulated at the appropriate scale.
2. Society, work and consumption
British lifestyles are increasingly complex and difficult todefine. Our empirical work draws on studies in Ports-mouth, England, that actually commenced in 1979—theyear that Margaret Thatcher initiated the neo-conservativepolitical agenda in Britain. Since 1979, many traditionalwork forms have all but disappeared: mass employment inmining, iron and steel, shipbuilding and so on. Someformer workers in these sectors will now make up the 2.7million individuals in Britain who are—in 2005—notdefined as unemployed because they are receiving statewelfare (incapacity benefit). A macro-level approachrequires us to look at those wider trends—the societalsea-changes—that have given rise not only to new forms of routinised behaviour, but also potentially including suchconcepts as the rise of anti-consumerism and Generation X(or Y— Bakewell and Mitchell, 2003). Our work on food-shopping behaviour at the local level is proving timely inlight of new developments industry-wide that are leading tofurther market concentration and which demand policyresponses. A useful starting point, then, is to look atchanges in the nature of work in Britain. The full-employment economy of the immediate postwar periodwas taken to mean the single (often male) ‘‘social wage’’supporting one household. The expectation was that manywomen need not aspire to participate in paid work. In thenew millennium, with divorce rates and job insecurityrising, and more hours worked than in most of Europe, themulti-wage household is increasing. Underlying this weobserve that persons aged 65 or over account for about25% of the market. Single-person households are increas-ing in number whilst the average household size (estimatedat 2.34 persons per household in 2002), is declining. Indeed,one-person households made up 29% of all households in2002; with two person households accounting for aroundanother 35% . The average number of children per womanof childbearing age is now 1.64, the lowest since recordsbegan in 1924 whilst over 50% of women are employed:leading to many dual-earner households. For the mostpart, two incomes are now needed simply to support thelifestyle that the single, social, wage once offered. (Office of National Statistics, 2003 a,b). That said, two or moreincomes also bring access to mainstream consumption—viacar ownership—a situation that now presages actual cardependence. Car dependence may be a particular problemin an ageing society when older shoppers may be preventedby infirmity from continuing to use a car. Our case studiesincluded less mobile elderly individuals ‘‘trapped’’ in areaswhere most neighbours were mobile.It has recently been noted that household break-up canprecipitate a fall into destitution as the safety net of the welfare state has been progressively hollowed out(seeThe Observer, 2005). Indeed, over our twenty-yearperiod the very poor in Britain have become relativelyworse off: a trend not reversed by the current New Labourgovernment. Where comparable figures exist, they showthat the richest 20% in Britain owned half the nationalwealth in 1938, this fell to 44% in 1973, but rose back to51% in 1986 (Crafts and Woodward, 1991, p. 13).Huhne (2003)wrote that, compared with mainland Europe,Britain was generally low on the list in terms of incomeper head, life expectancy, health and education spending.This included the poorest 10% of the population receivinga lower share of income than in any other EU country.Riddell (2003)wrote of a modern underclass dating back to1976 when
‘economic growth stopped narrowing the gapbetween rich and poor’. Adding ‘one in five families withchildren had no earner by the 1990s—four times the level in1968’
. A former New Labour MinisterMeacher (2003)wrote that
‘under Mrs Thatcher, the
fifth of the population with the lowest incomes had their share of post-tax national income cut from 10% to just 6%.
the richest fifth increased 
.from 37% to 45%’
. Things were not seen toimprove much in recent years.
‘From 1997 to 2002 the post-tax income of the bottom tenth
nearly 2.5 million house-holds
fell 2% to an average £3,339 per household. For thetop tenth it rose 39% to £54,514 per household’
. Thesignificance of Meacher’s choice of figures is that theyclosely cover the period over which we are studying change.The crucial point, though, is that a less stable society mustsurely generate less stable purchasing habits.
 2.1. Time to eat and cooking abilities
As long ago as 1991,McHugh et al. (1991)pointed outthat ‘‘time constraints imposed by the workplace mean thatmany (women) now require food products with substan-tially reduced cooking cycles.’’McHugh et al. (1991, p. 13).So, when family structures change so does eating beha-viour. For example, 78% of all meal times in 2002 had onlyone or two people present and market analystsTaylorNelson Sofre `s (2003)predict that if this level of growthcontinues, eating alone will be the norm by the end of 2010.Clearly, coping with shopping for such fragmentedmealtimes cannot be unproblematic. This introduces thetopic of convenience food (Gordon and Walton, 2000).BBC News, 2002reported that
Institute of GroceryDistribution ‘
research has found that consumers wantmore than just convenience, they also want help aninspiration in choosing what to eat in terms of menus and not just products’
. The act of purchasing, ready-to-eat, awhole meal may be an attempt to re-create the formalmealtime—but without the time, effort, and risk of failure.This introduces the possibility—which we will not pursuehere—that there has been a parallel failure, in BritishSociety, to educate consumers on what, and how, to cook.Convenience food leads to new behaviours such asindividualistic eating, de-skilling of the population in termsof cooking, and the micro economy of the household(Warde, 1999). The geography of retailing is even a
R. De Kervenoael et al. / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 13 (2006) 381–392
fundamental source of re-ordering the time-geography of consumers’ everyday lives (Pred, 1996). AsFig. 1indicates, this is a self-reinforcing circle increasing the reliance on,and importance of, convenience food in modern Britain.Building on the convenience food agenda has been therole of major superstore chains in pioneering food thatbarely needs to be prepared. This has led food retailers toregard fast-food outlets as rivals—and to re-create suchoutlets in their stores (easily possible in the largest stores).Because ‘‘convenience’’ abstracts the time—and skill—thatgoes into actual cooking it has clear implications for diet:particularly of the disadvantaged (Finch et al., 1998). Norcan such trends be unconnected with the obesity epidemiccurrently observed among British children.That said, we note that the rise in influence of the SoilAssociation with its organic agenda (Bentley et al., 2003) istestimony to resurgent interest in alternative food andsupply chains. There is also clear evidence of demand fromricher consumers for ‘‘fashion food’’. This sits alongsidethe rise of Chinese and Indian ethnic food in the everydaydiet—not that such outlets necessarily find business to beunproblematic (Patel, 1988).Fig. 2summarises the complexities faced by the post-modern British foodconsumer. Three main forces are at work; convenience— as already described—but also pleasure and health.Fig. 2serves to show the main changes, and the compromises,that consumers are facing while shopping. Consumersthemselves are more volatile and unpredictable. Thisreinforces the idea that shopping choice and competitionare socially constructed concepts set in a very specific timeand geographical scale (Miller et al., 1998).
3. Retail structure and in-store provision
As the British consumer has changed so has provisionwith, as we have suggested, car ownership (or at leastaccess to a car) as the key. Our earliest study (Hallsworth,1979) was initiated because British retailing had begun torestructure to accommodate the car and the earliestmanifestations were often still in central locations. InPortsmouth, Tesco had built a large store with a multi-storey car park—and simultaneously closed several muchsmaller high street supermarkets. This was part of thenational trend to larger, but fewer car-based stores and awidespread abandonment of the traditional High Street asthe prime location for grocery shopping -with odd notable
Fig. 1. The consumer economics of food: convenience food.
R. De Kervenoael et al. / Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services 13 (2006) 381–392

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