Around four years ago I visited a Tesco store in Warrington in the UK, and used it as the basis of a rather scathing blog on the state of Tesco, some of their biggest suppliers, and the state of shopper marketing. The store was bleak, horrible to shop, and devoid of any marketing creativity. Since then Tesco has had major problems, but is potentially seeing signs of recovery under the stewardship of a new CEO. This summer I visited the same store: has anything really changed for shoppers? Has big retail turned the corner, and begun to deliver a better shopper experience?
Using the human touch to improve the shopper experience
First things first. When you walk into the store it is open and spacious. A wide center aisle that pulls shoppers into the store. There is also a member of staff to greet shoppers, and to help with any questions. Grab and go snacks and sandwiches are nicely zoned to the side, with a checkout conveniently positioned nearby – again with plenty of associates on hand. In fact, staff were much more visible than before throughout the store, and were helpful when approached.
Technology used smartly to enhance the shopper experience
Self-checkouts and self-scanning is front and foremost. The cynical side of me notes that the technologies that have been adopted to ‘improve the shopper experience’ also cut costs by reducing store headcount, but given the financial issues Dave Lewis inherited, who can blame him? In the apparel section there is a screen where sizes and items not available in the store can be ordered.
The store is huge: on my last visit it felt like a warehouse. It still does a little, but efforts have been made to break up the store into shoppable zones to create a more varied shopper experience. Health & Beauty tries to feel like a drugstore, and the apparel area imitates a high street fashion store. From the small sample of shoppers that I observed (including my family!), this seemed to encourage browsing that simply didn’t happen with the old store configuration. That browsing (in our case at least) was converted into significant incremental purchase, too. The deli areas are dressed up like a cheese shop and a butcher, complete with butchers with traditional aprons.
While these changes will, I am sure, be welcome to most shoppers, the store overall still has the feel of a warehouse. What is apparent from the amount of dead space, is that Tesco are struggling to know exactly what to do with stores of this scale. As shoppers split their shopping trips over more stores, and their shopping basket fragments, the need, and therefore the economic viability of stores of this scale must be questionable.
Out of stocks still damage the shopper experience
For all this effort on creating a better shopping experience, Tesco is clearly struggling with the biggest blight on shoppers: out of stocks. Throughout the store products were missing, and most of the missing items were on promotions. Tesco’s continued obsession with promotions continues to have a negative impact on the shopping experience.
Tesco are making the best of the stores they have
The new Tesco seems to be making a big effort to improve the shopper experience in some of its previously lifeless and depressing stores. Zoning, staffing and signage all help to break up the bleak scale of the store into something far more interesting to shop. But nothing can hide the vast waste of space which brilliantly captures one of the biggest challenges facing ‘big box’ retailers in the age of shopper fragmentation: exactly what to do with the biggest stores when shopping baskets shrink? Tesco are making big strides in improving the shopper experience, but perhaps have yet to resolve the challenge of what exactly to do with all that space. Until that is resolved, while the shopper experience may improve, improving the financials may still prove tricky.
For more on retail, consumer goods, and shopper marketing, check out my company’s blog at www.engageconsultants.com/blog