Spar managing director Debbie Robinson says the convenience chain offers “reality” at a time when virtual reality is dominating conversation.

In a discussion on the changing face of convenience retailing at Retail Week Live she highlighted how Spar’s network of 2,700 stores was about “offering great services”.

She said: “We have our Sparkling Service programme which is all about human interaction.

“We’ve heard a lot about virtual reality but what we are offering is reality. People are working so hard to replicate it when we are already offering that.”

Robinson said that while Spar is on all the social media platforms and has apps that allow it to communicate with customers, these are not “in place of human interaction and we should not over-rely on one or the other”.

She added: “We know where the hotspots are in the store because it is where the floor is dirty and where the footsteps have stopped.”

Spar has also struck a number of partnerships with companies including Subway, Costa Coffee, Starbucks and Greggs where it is “in the interests of the consumer”.

Robinson argues the retail sector could learn from the airlines and the collaboration between them where they partner with rivals in order to open up more destinations.

She said: “I think we are all re-evaluating convenience and we need to be a bit smarter”.

Spar, as part of its drive to personalisation, is encouraging its independent retailers to pursue their passions – for instance inviting horticulture fans to stock a wide range of fresh flowers.

Oliver van Bilsen, global of head of digital for Shell’s retail, fuels and lubricants business, says it has worked out the pain points as it seeks to help save customers time.

He said: “Young mums found it hard to get out the car and leave children in the back of the car so we’ve developed the ability to pay from your car with your mobile without leaving your vehicle.”