A few things we noticed whilst walking around stores last week.

Week 32. As a youngster, I always enjoyed fantasy football with Baddiel and Skinner and in particular their feature at the start of each show where they highlighted things they’d seen whilst watching football that week. In a pre internet world, it was far harder than it sounded.Often the observations would be amusing, and centred around a real life event that had occurred in the week. A footballer who had a tale in the press about his excessive £1,000 weekend drinking was then showed to be at a game at the weekend, with a clip of a huge hosepipe spraying water on to the pitch.

You had to be there perhaps.

But that section is the inspiration for this new weekly series on the blog which will shed light on the some store activity (for those who don’t have time to visit them) whilst also providing some light entertainment, hopefully.

To the stores!

1. Halloween is coming

For anyone who has had the delight of visiting the USA for Halloween, you’ll know it’s like Christmas over here. Child sized Candy bags and every piece of house based decoration you could imagine. Asda have been excellent on Halloween in recent years thanks to their Wal-Mart influence, but Costco – the US cash/carry operation are generally a good place to go for large garden based decorations that will delight your neighbours.

Halloween at Costco.
Halloween at Costco

They win the ‘first to Halloween’ award this year with their ‘giant’ Halloween door wreath to ensure you’re the talk of your street in September.

2. Wilko flagging

All the talk in the trade is around Wilko restructuring their store operations, which in many cases will be legacy roles like assistant managers and various supervisors that aren’t necessarily needed these days. Technology has reduced stock levels in stores but there is a need for some supervisors, perhaps not as many as they currently have. Restructures and store closures are now commonplace, whereas before retailing was ‘a job for life’.

Availability woes at Wilko
Availability woes at Wilko

Low profits (a mere £5m) was blamed on Brexit pressure which is understandable, but surely not a hugely contributing factor? This year’s lower sterling rate will be a bigger factor one would think… As ever with retail – it’s about looking to your own stores before you worry about the wider market…

3. Argos standalone stores

Remember the days of the Argos “Extra” format? IE plough a load of stock in to stores to tempt customers, many of whom are very specifically mission driven by the catalogue (that Argos had developed let’s not forget).

Core Argos stores are light on stock.
Core Argos stores are light on stock.

The new Sainsbury’s regime looks to have abandoned the placing of excess stock on every pillar and square foot of floor space, with a recent visit seeing a store that looked a little like it was closing down. What to do with all that extra selling space though? Patisserie Valerie over in the corner near order number 16?

4. Tesco heading to the 21st century

There were so many mis-steps under Philip Clarke at Tesco that you could fill about 3 books. Many of these have been covered to death on this very website, however one of the more curious (I exclude the hilarity of Blinkbox, H&H and Giraffe) was their development of ‘direct’ desks under the ‘Tesco Direct’ brand. This was designed (classic Tesco) to be a hybrid between collection and folk coming to order, like Argos really, alongside a marketplace style website taking on Amazon too. Why not?!

Not only did Tesco decide to offer the ‘walk up’ customers a chance to buy something online and have it delivered despite the fact they could probably buy it from the store itself. They added an ‘Amazon marketplace’ idea where multiple sellers were able to sell their wares on the platform. All this centred around the ‘direct desk’ which was fully staffed and had colleagues ready and waiting to serve.

The issue was the colleagues spent rather too much time waiting.. The problem with click/collect is that the customer has 7 days to pick up and can turn up at any time, so how do you accurately ensure the desks are staffed? Other than staffing them all the time? It was a problem of Tesco’s own doing and when they were cutting away at staff left, right and centre – the move made less sense.

Click/Collection points for customers.
Click/Collection points for customers.

Recent moves have seen them move collection of orders to the customer service desk, which sees customers queuing for their online order alongside ‘can I have £1 for the trolley?’ And ‘why don’t you stock Heinz Canned Tomatoes?’ Etc. That equally isn’t convenient.

I applaud Tesco for following the market (eventually) and simply adding Asda style kiosks (some 4 years old now) which suddenly solve all the click/collect challenges instantly. Expected the press tales, spinning how these machines are doing x,y and z. However just looking across the market often reduces the need to think radical…..

5. A for the idea, but E for Execution

John Lewis had a great display in their store window at the Trafford Centre last week, with kids at the local school drawing pictures of people that inspired them and were heroes. All very nice and very John Lewis too.

A lovely piece of work with the local school children.
A great piece of work with the local school children.

However upon further inspection at the window itself, the partner applying the labels had got in to the spirit of things and used the local authority authorised Pritt stick imitation to apply the labels to the wall. Most of which were either dog eared (automatic loss in marks) or indeed had fallen off the wall.

However E for execution with the labels.
E for execution with the labels.

Time for an older member of staff to be let loose with the giant wall stapler.

6. New in Boots

No, not the latest ‘innovation’ from an FMCG supplier which sees pride of place for the latest repair shampoo (a severe repair?) but some store environment work from Boots! I almost fell over when I saw a slight change in the layout, never mind new kit and LED lights(!)

Edwin Booth once remarked that Waitrose was what a supermarket would like if the civil service ran it, you can often make the same case for Boots and their health/medical based hybrid. It’s not really inspiring.

Unique gift counter - with no one around
Unique gift counter – with no one around.

There were some fundamental errors in how the layouts had been arranged though, some of it smacked of ‘space filling’ perhaps with a lot of space dedicated to engraving gifts (an idea for Christmas if at all) and then an updated cosmetics counter. There is a big struggle to develop the same feeling of excitement and fashion that somewhere like Selfridges has, or even what Superdrug gets from their newer format.

An engraving counter felt like a slow burner.
An engraving counter feels like a slow burner.

The biggest issue with the store was how Boots had elected to lay the store out, the flow of customers means they go to the meal deal chillers and then work their way around to the checkouts.

To maximise visibility to the new counters; Boots elected to put a run of shelving with Sun Cream in the way..

A great Beauty counter with LED lighting.
An unmanned Beauty counter with LED lighting.
All the customer flow is behind this display, which blocks all the new displays.
All the customer traffic in to food to go are helpfully prevented from seeing the new counters by this display of Sun Cream.

Lots of space around these concessions which seemed odd, the store manning the counters would also help matters for customers. A timely reminder that the head office intention differs immensely from what the reality then looks like at the sharp end.


So that’s it for this week, we’ll get an email sorted so you can have this digest of retail highlights/lowlights and general cynicism emailed directly to brighten your Monday morning.

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In addition,; Grocery Insight work with several retailers, marketing agencies, suppliers and those within the investment community to provide unique perspectives in to the sector, backed up by a significant number of images detailing our observations.

Covering numerous topics, store reviews and visits, category reviews and visits, new store development, reviews on concept stores and our vast image archive, advisory services with regular presentations on the market conditions, seasonal event overviews, images and guidance alongside many, many other examples within the wider food retail sector.

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