Tesco has unveiled three versions of its new generation Extra stores at Watford, Purley and Coventry over the past few weeks which are, in subtle ways, all different. Retail Week takes a look at the differences.

Tesco Extras are like No 31 buses - you wait for ages…well, you know the rest. This month the grocer unveiled three new-look stores in Purley, Watford and Coventry within a fortnight. The outcome is a set of interiors that show just how mindful the retailer is of its competitors - that doesn’t just mean the other supermarket groups comprising the big four, but also a broad range of general high street operators.

Purley

Take the Purley store. This is a two-floor structure with food on one level and general merchandise on the mezzanine upper level. The upper level is actually a retrofitted insertion, meaning the ceilings are lower than in Watford or Coventry, which leads to a strong sense of enclosure. That said, walk into this store and the first thing that the visitor encounters is the fresh area, above which large rafts, composed of light wooden slats, have been suspended.

These are given added definition by matt black surrounds to which black spotlights are attached. The aim is to light the stock rather than the whole area, and the spots are an addition to the normal ambient lighting, which is diffused by the rafts.

The City Kitchen delicatessen is a relatively small island just beyond the fruit and veg area, with white, industrial-looking pendant lights - the intention being to create the sense of a discrete shop-in-shop.

Beyond this there’s the wood-clad bakery - which is now a pretty standard feature of any Tesco store of size and marks it out as being different from its competitors, for the amount of timber that has been deployed in the cladding alone.

There’s also a cake shop, and on and on and on, with in-store shop after shop. There are, of course, areas of ambient merchandise, but even here the aisles have elements that distract, including one that shouts ‘new’ thanks to almost endless shelf ‘wobblers’ along its length and which boasts a very wide selection of products.

Worth mentioning too is the booze aisle. Purley is where Surrey impinges on Croydon and is an affluent area. That means Tesco has thrown the store design book at the alcohol area, giving it the ambience of an upscale wine merchant, with some premium wines and champagnes on offer to boot.

Here, as in the fresh area, a suspended wooden raft (and a wooden floor) succeed in making this part of the store less of a white, impersonal box and more of a shopper-friendly environment.

At the far end of the floor, underneath the mezzanine, sit the optician and pharmacy areas. Again, these give the impression of being individual stores that happen to be in a Tesco, but which are tied in by a specific palette
of materials.

A seasoned observer of the supermarket scene might infer that Tesco has taken the Morrisons Market Street
format, clad it in wood and then added a cluster of ‘shops’. The suspended wooden slats are similar to those in Waitrose on Marylebone High Street, where this has been part of the store design for a few years.

The same observer might notice that there is a “mister” unit in the fresh area, dispensing clouds of rain droplets over the produce - much like what Morrisons has been doing for a while now. In fairness to Tesco, it has managed to keep the unit filled up and looking good, even on a busy Thursday shopping night.

Head upstairs via the travelator and the great Tesco store design revolution falls a little flat, as the ceiling is just too low to show off the F&F clothing range to advantage and the Costa coffee shop is almost hidden - this is the result of shoehorning everything in and hoping for the best.

Perhaps it might be better to keep to the ground floor, as the upper level signally fails to inspire.

Watford

In Watford, the refurbished single-floor store has enabled Tesco to more or less create an interior from scratch and present every constituent part of the offer to advantage.

The first thing that the shopper will encounter is the Giraffe restaurant, which is made to function as a semi-separate unit that just happens to be in the same building as the rest of the offer.

Now head into the store and the Euphorium Bakery, The Bakery Project and the Harris + Hoole coffee shop are evidence that Tesco now has a kit of parts that can be mixed and matched and put into stores on a piecemeal basis as may be deemed necessary.

Coventry

Finally, there is Coventry, which was the last shop in the Extra trio to welcome customers through the doors. This store is on an out-of-town retail park, and perhaps some shoppers may want to eat on arrival. For this reason, Tesco has created Decks - “wholesome, honest, real food” - a restaurant that has not been bought by the retailer, but that has instead been created from scratch by the grocer.

This part of the Midlands is probably not as affluent as either Watford or Purley and the Decks pricing and interior reflects the economic reality. That said, the service is pleasant, the interior cheerful and wooden - naturally - and prices are on the better side of low. Within the store, Tesco offers a somewhat stripped-down version of what has been done in Watford. There is no Euphorium Bakery or anything like it but, on the other hand, the homewares section beats both Purley and Watford in terms of presentation.

It is also worth noting that in all three of the stores, Tesco has made what looks like a minor homage to the food visual merchandising displays that are a feature in Marks & Spencer’s Simply Food stores and new-look food halls.

These are different in each store and are placed at the ends of aisles and on the corners of the deli counters, among a number of locations, and soften the overall look and feel of these very large interiors.

This all adds up to a store design kit of parts. Tesco claims that each of the stores is different, as each is a response to a different demographic, and looking at them it would be difficult to argue against that.

The most positive aspect of the whole enterprise is that the retailer has realised there is plenty out there that is worthy of inclusion in its stores and it has taken many elements that are the bread and butter of other retailers’ interiors and made them better.

There is also sufficient inherent flexibility in what has been done to make the three stores the foundation of Tesco interiors that may all be different, but which are still typically Tesco - not an easy thing do to.

On this reckoning, Tesco has moved on from the dark days of early 2012 and has created a series of options that may help it gain market share in the relatively short term.

The basics

Tesco Extras Purley, Watford and Coventry

Similarities Use of wood and discrete shop-in-shop treatments

Differences Fresh areas, City Kitchens, bakeries, restaurants

The outcome A kit of parts for new and refurbished stores