Are UK consumers shunning the supermarket experience?

The times they are changing. Especially if you are one of the big super-hyper-mega-market stores in the UK. 

Not so long ago, ASDA were in the news discussing what they could do with their ever-increasing, in-store space.

These once gleaming mini Meccas for UK consumers, are losing some of their sparkle it seems – or at least we have all become much lazier and fare becoming fully paid up members, boarding the online express, where dreams are provided from the comforting walls of our humble abodes.

This week, Tesco announced plans to install gyms in some of their stores, through the gym chain ‘Exercise4less’. The first location will take up more than 30’000 sq ft at the Durham road store in Stockton on Tees.

There is also talk of a tie up with retailer Sports Direct, to position stores next to some of Tesco’s larger supermarkets.

Tesco CEO Philip Clarke told last week’s Tesco AGM that the “seismic shift” caused by digital migration would result not only in the scrapping of several stores, but the reduction in size for a number of stores in the pipeline.

It appears that Tesco are not against joining forces either. At the Camberley site, Tesco operates alongside Marks & Spencers and has indicated that they would like to work with other retailers to create ‘destinations’

‘Destinations’ – mmm that rings a bell. 

You see ‘destination’ shopping has long been the preserve of the larger shopping centres or (busy) high streets.

The term ‘destination’ implies that people will go out of their way to shop there. This is of course normally driven by consumer need to shop at retail stores not widely available, or at least bigger versions of high street favourites.

So far Tesco have dabbled in the retailer acquisition game with sizeable investments in Giraffe & Harris & Hoole. Both of course are food and drink offerings, rather than FMCG or clothing.

But these alone will not produce a compelling retail destination and to do so, will take a lot more than a gym or a coffee shop.

Many of the larger shopping centres have been very savvy in recent times. They have utilized their space to add theatre and experience to the malls – creating genuine retail destinations. These days the biggest malls boast over 200 stores meaning consumers really can make a whole day of it.

The biggest supermarket stores are still supermarkets, no matter how many miles of aisles are on offer. If the supermarket retail experience was so compelling, people would choose to shop there instead of waving our digits at a digital displays. 

Even Tesco’s biggest stores (Tesco Extra in Walkden with 185’500 sq ft for those interested) would be laughed off the bottom of the top 100 shopping centre list (The Grange & Pyramids in Birkenhead coming in at 469995 sq ft) in terms of the space on offer.

Are these behemoths finding themselves in a bit of a bind just now?  The ‘Extra’ hypermarkets in comparison to the giants of shopping mall experience, are going to struggle to be worthy of a ‘destination’ tag.

Adding gyms, restaurants and café’s certainly create a more ‘lifestyle’ focused environment. But in all honesty, are strategies in which to increase customer dwell-time and add a few more coffers to the tills.

The best shopping centres invest in more than just retail offerings. They offer landscaped spaces for customers to sit down and relax. Allowing them to top up their energy levels before they continue their hikes across the never-ending cornucopia of choice and variety. 

It will be interesting to see if Tesco has any tricks up its sleeve over the coming years. It certainly has the resources to do something spectacular. But I fear that transforming the brand from “Every little helps” to “Mum can we please go to Tesco this weekend” may be a stretch. Even for Tesco.


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