Tesco’s fashion brand has revamped its look in the Woolwich and Pitsea stores.

It’s a little over two years since Tesco took its F&F clothing brand and spun it off as a standalone proposition. That, however, was in Prague and at the time the Tesco powers that be were quick to make the point that there was no prospect of what had been done in the Czech capital, and latterly in Brno and Warsaw, being replicated in the mother country.

The supermarket has been fairly true to its word. There are still no standalone F&F stores in the UK and there are no plans in place for this to be altered. Yet it is in the nature of a cross-border outfit such as Tesco that its constituent parts do not operate in isolation.

Overseas influence

This means that from time to time, the empire will strike back as ideas that have been generated outside the UK are quietly deployed back home. And F&F is a case in point. There may still be no F&F standalones here, but the influence of what’s been done in central Europe is, at last, beginning to be felt… in Woolwich, south London and Pitsea in Essex. Both stores are Tesco Extras – with Woolwich being new, while Pitsea is a refurbishment of a large (Tesco’s biggest by floor space), old store.

And while both have segregated fresh F&F areas, the differences are almost as great as the similarities. F&F in the Woolwich store is at the front of the first floor and is the first thing that the shopper encounters upon riding the travelator to the store’s upper, non-food, level.

This is a very tall building and the ceiling on the first floor is correspondingly lofty, which means that there has been room to create what Four IV, the design company that worked on the Czech stores and on this one, refers to as a “floating fascia”. This is actually a suspended banner that runs around the perimeter of the F&F department, bears the brand name and acts as a shop front where there is no shop front.

Fashion feel

In-store demarcation matters, particularly when an area within a store is supposed to be substantially different from the rest of what is on offer. In Woolwich it would be hard to miss what has been done and the equipment, composed for the most part of black metal, takes its cue from what was done in Prague and Brno, setting the space apart.

Wander across the non-existent, yet somehow entirely tangible, F&F threshold and the sense is still supermarket, but somehow a lot less than would normally be encountered in the non-food or clothing area of a similar UK store. And a number of elements have been added to indicate that the shopper has entered a fashion environment, albeit a value-led one.

Foremost among these is the graphics package. Fashion shots have been slotted in as the centerpieces of all the mid-shop equipment and, while graphics of this are standard as a part of most supermarket visual merchandising, they are nonetheless much more obvious in this store. There are also integrated digital screens showing F&F content, reinforcing the notion of a separate part of the store, even allowing for the fact that it is in the heart of things. Note should also be made of the digital mirror that allows shoppers to browse ranges and try on garments while looking at themselves. Virtual fitting rooms tend to be found in young fashion stores, and yet in Woolwich this element has been incorporated as part of the mix in a hypmermarket.

Now head northeast of the Thames and arriving at Pitsea, things are different again. Pitsea has just emerged from a refurbishment that has seen the F&F area completely revamped and made a real centerpiece of the store’s offer.

As in Woolwich, access to the space is via a travelator, but from the moment the shopper enters this store, the F&F presence is visible in the shape of massive graphics that stare down from the point where the mezzanine overlooks the store atrium, just inside the entrance.

The ceiling on this store is much lower than in Woolwich – the mezzanine looks and feels as if it was an afterthought when the store had been built. In consequence, any desire for a ‘floating fascia’ has been banished. This means that shoppers arriving on the store’s upper level cannot ignore F&F. It is there and there is no avoiding it.

That said, the same equipment as in Woolwich is used to indicate a change of pace. The floor also shifts on this level from faux pine to a faux aged ash – more expensive than sticking with a uniform floor covering, but certainly serving to make a difference.

Digital progress

There are also screens bearing fashion content, but in this store there is the addition of what looks like a large iPhone turned on its side. This bears a close resemblance to similar devices that have been in place in Marks & Spencer stores ever since it opened its ‘digital lounge’ in the Edgware Road store in late 2011. Now Tesco shoppers can browse the F&F offer online while in the F&F area. It is perhaps a measure of the progress made by in-store kiosks that this particular element should have been incorporated into the store blueprint.

The main point about what’s been done in both Woolwich and Pitsea, however, is that a recipe cooked up offshore is now being delivered, with some of the ingredients altered, to UK shoppers. The two new-look F&Fs point the way forward for Tesco’s clothing offer in this country and it seems highly probable that the modular approach that has been adopted will lead to this being rolled out at speed.

The Tesco makeover bandwagon continues to gather speed and there is every reason to suppose that what is on view in these stores will only prove to be a further chapter in the F&F clothing evolution. Standalone F&Fs remain a pipedream in the UK, but following Pitsea and Woolwich, they now look more of a possibility. 

F&F in Tesco Extra, Woolwich and Pitsea

Opened November 2012

Woolwich Extra New store

Design In-house and Four IV

Pitsea Extra Refurbished store

F&F new format derivation Czech Republic