It has been dubbed the supermarket of the future, a 'shopping and leisure destination' where Tesco hopes its customers will 'come to spend time and meet their friends and family'. So is the new Tesco Extra store in Watford all its cracked up to be? Alex Johns went along to find out...
Having done a little research beforehand, I discovered that the new Tesco Extra in Watford - one of the biggest supermarkets in the UK - is part of a £1bn expansion and upgrade programme for the retail giant. And as soon as you walk in you know it’s ticking that box in a big way, and that Tesco is really trying to make it different. This is the world of Tesco in front your eyes: you can have a great coffee at Harris + Hoole (although shame for the purist that Tesco "secretly" owns 49 per cent of the brand) or grab a snack at Giraffe (which it acquired back in March); buy fashion from the new-look F&F (their own fashion brand Florence & Fred) or try the Euphorium bakery.
Other areas are neat too, like the wines and spirits section featuring digital screens showing cocktail recipes, the misty veg table, the fresh produce section, and the City kitchen deli. Tesco has used cooler, warehouse-style lighting, nicer zoning to create areas which felt totally unlike a supermarket and clearer, sharper POS. It’s basically 80,000 sq ft of carefully created retail, more like a department store than a supermarket. Experience is to the forefront, with shopping less thrust down your throat, and more time to browse and find what you are looking for.
Bottom line is that Tesco has done this well: it certainly doesn't look and feel like a normal Tesco, and the experience is totally and utterly different to any I have visited before – it’s both experiential and different.
I left wondering how long will it take before this rolls out; the programme is due to fast track "from 2014" … However if Tesco can replicate this across the UK, it will be a big hit. Is this good or bad for retail in the UK? Good, I guess, in that Tesco has realised that online is damaging its business and so it had to change – and categorical proof that experiential stores are the future and the only way to compete with online retail.
Final thoughts: do the public really want everything under one roof? As a ‘traditional’ shopper I don't really like the fact that a supermarket is turning itself into a department store where you can actually go and have lunch. Are we really so bereft of ideas for lunch that we now have to sit down at the supermarket?
My overriding impression for Tesco is congrats, you've done a good job to provide a different experience in your stores and you've done all you could have done. This might give the rest of retail the kick they need to do something truly different.
It does make you wonder though: if Tesco can do this with its brand when it is selling a lot of other people’s products, what could those very brands achieve if they decided to create their own experience stores?
Alex Johns is managing partner at Worth Retail