Community and independently owned shops selling groceries in remote and rural parts of the Highlands and Islands are being asked to take part in a survey into the role they play in sustaining communities.
The survey will help understand the factors affecting rural shops, and the strategies that could be adopted to remain sustainable and adapt to changing market conditions.
It is part of research, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), on rural retail across the region. The focus of the research is on community and independently owned shops where grocery is a core provision.
The retail sector has seen enormous change in recent decades, with the growth of major retailing chains. The advent of online selling and home delivery has dramatically changed the market in which these businesses operate.
Many retailers have diversified to provide new, innovative, additional services and products. While the internet is a potential threat it also provides opportunities for rural retailers to expand their sales, services and catchment area, and find more competitive suppliers.
While the role of the rural shop may have changed over the years they remain a vital element of rural life, providing supplies, employment and a social centre within communities.
Douglas Cowan, HIE’s director of strengthening communities, said: “This study is about recognising the important role of community and independently owned shops in sustaining small and rural communities. It’s about understanding the dramatic changes affecting the running of those shops and identifying the most appropriate policy response. We need to be able to help them diversify and adapt if that’s what they need to do to strengthen their position. The more retailers who take part in the study, the better informed we will be in determining future support.”