It was bound to happen eventually, but Refits seem to be back as the must-have essential for any successful retailer. JS and Morrisons have showcase stores which are refits in the shape of Heaton Park and St Albans, while Asda have been very quietly applying some of the new store designs used in the supermarkets format to freshen up their larger stores. And now, the talk is all about Tesco embarking on their biggest store investment programme since Refresh My Superstore over 10 years ago.
Many in the industry obsess on the latest new stores and fantastic new designs, but the average shopper generally only cares about the handful of stores they use regularly and is often unimpressed by the stuff that us retailing geeks get excited about.
There are numerous stores around the country left to trade alone with prototype kit that was sexy at the time, but became unviable once the value engineers got their hands on the roll out programme. Whilst I love the love level produce kit Morrisons have been playing with, I'm reminded of similar gondola units at the front of JS Central in Tottenham Court Road when it first opened. And how many times have we been told Olive Bars are the future?
In one of their many anti-Tesco rants, a Guardian writer showed her narrow knowledge of their stores by accusing them of popping up with fake clock towers everywhere. Now, that design of store hasn't been built for over 15 years butane so this serves as a great example of how the public perceives the big retailers - through the lens of their local stores.
And this is what Tesco need to be wary of. Morrisons are in a position where they have some fun in a couple of stores before deciding what are the bits to take around the country while Tesco need something that can roll out to 800+ shops quickly, cheaply and with minimal customer impact. Not an easy brief it has to be said. Carrefour have tried an ambitious project with their "Planet" concept and progress has been halted as they have discovered roll-outs aren't the same as trials. Personally, I'd tie Tesco down to 5 key points.
1. Put Produce back where it belongs
Look at Morrisons and JS - a strong Produce department is still the best way to greet your customers. Hidding it halfway round the store just doesn't work. You don't even need to go as far as Morrisons - good simple signage and kit like JS use will work. In fact, the green kit used by Tesco for well over 10 years is actually very good if laid out and planned well. Let's get back to seeing a big bountiful and colourful display of fresh produce and flowers as we walk in.
2. Give shoppers some room
The thing that stood out for me in recent JS refits as well as landmark stores such as Welwyn Garden City is the width of the aisles. Everyone seems to have been obsessed with maximising yield in store layouts in recent years which has resulted in cramped unpleasant stores. This is often made worse during tough trading times as more shippers and dump bins are added in. With non-food returns per square foot dropping and most grocery halls at optimum space, now is the time to invest in space for the customer.
3. You only need one seasonal aisle
Or to put it another way, before adding a second make sure you've got enough credible customer-focused events to fill the space for 12 months. "£1, £2, £3" and World Food Events may seem like a good idea when projected from Powerpoint, but they don't work in store.
4. More soul in the signage
Tesco signage has got more and more clinical over the last few years. And to make it worse, the modern colour palette seems to be inspired by 1950s hospital wards. They need to look at JS for directional signage and Morrisons for feature signage inspiration. And most importantly, remember that carpet-bombing a store with colours and signs isn't the way to do things. Good stores are simple with pockets of personality.
5. Keep your boxes in the warehouse
Shoppers don't want to see your overstocks nor do they do feel reassured that the item with no stock on the shelf has a case out of reach. It cheapens the feel of the store with the impact being that you feel an impulse to trade down on your item choice. For snobbier shoppers, you may even trade out to a store which makes you feel better about yourself.
These 5 points assume the basics are there as well - sensible space allocations, proper customer-focused flows and great implementation at store level. It's time to get back to basics for Tesco - especially as when they are doing the basics, they have generally done them way better than anyone has done previously. That's the every little that helped them get where they are today