Why can't 'convenience store' be 'convenience shop'? And why can't 'coffee shop' be 'coffee store'? Can you tell me the exact difference between the two words?

  • 4
    It depends crucially what part of the Anglosphere you are in. In Britain, most people rarely refer to a retail establishment as a store, except in the phrase department store: the normal word is shop. In the US, on the other hand, the normal word is store, and shop tends to refer to a workshop. Coffee shop, like department store, is an import to Britain from America: we would not normally refer to any kind of cafe as a shop. – Colin Fine Jan 7 at 13:32
  • In UK we usually call the place where the consumer buys things a shop but increasingly use the US term store. In UK we also use shop to mean workshop. – Weather Vane Jan 7 at 13:32

When referring in general to outlets on the high street, "shop" is more common in British English, "store" more common in US English. A 'grocery store' in the US is usually called a 'grocers' in the UK, and we tend to say "I'm going to the shop", rather than "to the store". There are some exceptions - a 'general store' in British English is a type of shop that sells an array of goods, like a very small supermarket, although this term is quite outdated and not used much nowadays.

When it comes to "coffee shop", that seems to be an exception. I guess that a "store" is literally somewhere that stores (to keep amounts of stock in storage) things for sale. As coffee shops make fresh coffee on demand they don't really store the things they sell. A 'coffee store' sounds more like a place where you can buy coffee grounds to make coffee at home than a place you can buy a fresh cup of coffee.

Having said that, "store" has become more commonly used beyond US English since the introduction of online shopping. British online shoppers are used to terminology like "web store" and "shopping cart" (in real supermarkets, British English speakers call carts 'trolleys').

  • 2
    I would add that in AmE, shop connotes a small operation which performs preparation, repair, or other services in addition to offering goods for sale: uses like butcher shop, [auto] body shop, gift shop, barber shop, bike shop, print shop, and so on, and compounds like pawnshop, sweatshop, and indeed Photoshop, are common. This "artisanal" connotation (wood shop, metal shop) is the conceit a company takes when describing a technology or methodology (General Electric is a Six Sigma shop, Acme was a Solaris shop). – choster Jan 7 at 15:38
  • In BrE the term "general store" has probably mutated into "convenience store", which is a common name for small shops operated by a supermarket chain or by a fuel company. (The "convenience" often ignores the extortionate prices charged!) – alephzero Jan 7 at 22:25
  • @alephzero According to Google Ngrams, 'convenience store' only overtook 'general store' in usage around 2000, but both have increased steadily in use since. – Astralbee Jan 7 at 22:29

In American English, at least in my experience, shop implies a small place, usually run by a single person and focused on a particular kind of specialty product or service.

By contrast, a store is usually a larger establishment that carries a wide variety of products and is more focused on selling items than providing services.

So for example, I might go down to the repair shop to get an appliance fixed, but "repair store" doesn't make sense; that would make me think of a warehouse where they carry repair parts or something.

Similarly, if you said you were going to a "coffee store", I wouldn't imagine a café or Starbucks, but rather a store with big bins of coffee beans from many places that you can buy in bulk, or something of that nature. But that said, while "coffee shop" fits the general pattern, but it's actually a special case where that term is a set phrase, so it may act a little differently than the standard usage.

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