The future of retailing … or ungroovy uncle of an idea?

“A compelling combination of retail, food service and community”

“The retail equivalent of your uncle trying to be groovy at a wedding and failing”

Two rather different interpretations of Tesco’s widely publicised plans to breathe some life into its underperforming superstores – the first from Kantar Retail, the second from the New Economics Foundation’s Andrew Simms.

Tesco wants to recreate the atmosphere of a characterful local town centre in a typical characterless shed just off the A-something-or-other (Watford has been chosen as a guinea pig for the experiment) – and then replicate it up and down the country.

What can shoppers at the newly revamped Tesco Extra at Watford expect? Well, they get an artisan Harris + Hoole coffee shop, an artisan Euphorium bakery and an upmarket restaurant (giraffe) for starters. But it’s the Watford’s store’s ‘community space’ and yoga classes that have grabbed most of the media attention – ‘Yoga class? Pop down Tesco’s’ as the Daily Mail put it.

All these things are designed to increase ‘dwell time’ (although the idea of being entombed in a Tesco community space sounds more like hell-time). And the retailer insists that the Watford store is already “creating a buzz” and increasing footfall.

“All these things are designed to increase ‘dwell time’ (although the idea of being entombed in a Tesco community space sounds more like hell-time)”

Whether Tesco has really created a template for a cool new way to shop, or an ungroovy uncle of an idea, time will tell. But given the frequency with which the Next Big Thing in Retail comes along – and departs – nothing much at all can be taken for granted.

Tense times at Tesco HQ, no doubt. But will independents be overly worried that a few more of their ideas have been nicked by the retailing giant? I doubt it. There’s an air of panic about the way these incoherent features have been bolted onto the failing superstore model. And it’s really interesting to see how supermarkets have slipped below EU legislation and online retailers in the league of top ‘threats’ to independent health stores (see p 9). I’d read that as a sign of the times.

By Jim Manson

Natural Products editor and environment journalist
Jim Manson is editor of Natural Products magazine. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian and Time Out.