This customer service focus is a hot topic in retail at the moment and will also be at the heart of Wal-Mart’s small neighbourhood stores – those that it is opening in direct competition to Tesco’s Fresh & Easy. Wal-Mart has today revealed that it is pursuing a “passion for fresh and delicious food” and “the highest level of customer service”.
Both of these promises are not things usually associated with Wal-Mart. The world’s largest retailer is best-known for its sprawling superstores with products piled high to the ceiling and minimal service.
While Wal-Mart’s traditional format has stood it in good stead, it is aiming at a different market with its first new format in a decade and those customers will demand both good service and quality of product.
Wal-Mart’s 15,000 sq ft (1,395 sq m) Marketside neighbourhood stores will be “dedicated to helping our customers answer the question ‘What’s for dinner?’” The premise sounds more Whole Foods than it does Wal-Mart and, according to planning documents, the stores will also include a kitchen, food counters and seating for up to nine people.
Like Tesco for its Fresh & Easy launch, Wal-Mart is using a different logo. The stores will trade under a logo depicting a pile of stylised vegetables and fruit, with the Marketside name in green and a small, blue star providing the only branding reference to Wal-Mart.
The move will pile huge pressure on Tesco’s Fresh & Easy roll-out. Furthermore, Tesco focuses on providing fresh food at discount prices and is in the midst of a three-month pause in its roll-out, as it adjusts its store presentation and marketing.
Targeting a new market will not be easy for Wal-Mart and what it is going after specifically is Fresh & Easy’s customer. It will be a battleground between the two supermarket giants and what it may well come down to is who can offer the best customer service.
In the UK, John Lewis has proved that customer service can drive sales. And, in the same way that Best Buy will be hoping that it can make customer service matter in the electricals market, so Wal-Mart will be hoping to outpace Tesco in its small neighbourhood grocery roll-out.