IN A TRIAL linked to its Rewards customer loyalty programme, J Sainsbury effectively becomes a wholesaler for village stores, these days a fast-vanishing facility in rural communities. The scheme, run in conjunction with the charity VIRSA (Village Retail Services Association), will enable village shopkeepers to meet consumer demand for local convenience purchasing. The mechanic is a Sainsbury’s shopkeepers’ club, members of which receive bulk purchase offers plus loyalty points for subsequent use as discounts on purchases. Shopkeepers can set their own prices for resale. The scheme’s progenitor Richard Fry, a trustee and joint founder of VIRSA, sees it as a lifeline for many of the UK’s 10,000 village shops - 3,500 of which are estimated to be in danger of closure at any one time. [It looks as if almost everyone wins - shoppers, small shopkeepers and Sainsbury which gets to play the good guy for once, at the same time earning useful incremental income. The only losers will be ‘symbol’ wholesalers like Happy Shopper and Spar.]