Tesco’s new superstore in Bicester offers progress and efficiency for the town’s rapidly expanding population.

Tesco recently managed to confound doom-mongers by unveiling a trading update that showed it had moved back into the black with a profit of £162m for the year to February 27, following a whopping loss the year before.

But chief executive Dave Lewis has conducted a root-and-branch examination of the business and has succeeded in “stabilising” what was, by any analysis, a pretty rocky situation.

Yet curiously, if there is one area where Tesco has been on a pretty even keel, it’s store design. The story here has been one of progress built on progress and, for the most part, new Tesco stores have continued to roll off the format production line capable of taking on all comers.

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Tesco Bicester

Latte-sippers can watch the trolley-pushers from Tesco’s mezzanine café

The bulk of the action, however, has been in the small and convenience store arenas, and the number of big stores to welcome their first shoppers has been severely limited. There are exceptions though and to gain a sense of what is happening in the world of larger Tesco stores, look no further than Bicester.

Relocation, relocation, relocation

There was already a large Tesco store on the edge of this fast-growing Oxfordshire town (perhaps most famous for its Bicester Village outlet centre) so the new store is a relocation, just down the road from the old store which closed one day before the new one opened. Now the town is the location of the latest thinking in big-box retailing for Tesco and the store looks to be no-nonsense and efficient.

“Bicester is the location of the latest thinking in big-box retailing for Tesco and the store looks to be no-nonsense and efficient”

From the outside the view is of a long, grey, steel, glass and wood-clad building topped with a large Tesco sign. Moving closer, there are mood graphics showing farmers and cows, aimed at emphasising the British nature of what lies within.

There is also a pair of messages, the first of which reads: ‘Serving Bicester’s shoppers a little better, every day’. The other is about Tesco being ‘Here to help’ with a message recognising that some people will come to the store for a few ‘weekly essentials or a wedge of Cornish brie’ while others will be on a full family shopping mission. Given its edge-of-town location, there are probably relatively few who will arrive at this store on a convenience mission, but it is easy to see why the grocer’s marketing folk should wish to stress that this is a store for all.

Admire the view

Step inside and the initial vista is that of a standard large-format hypermarket: fresh to the fore. This is an enormous department but from a store design perspective what really matters are the views. The mid-shop gondolas permit uninterrupted sightlines to the ‘Freshly baked’, aka the bakery, sign at the back of the store, which is set upon neutral wooden slats.

The open-plan layout means that from the outset shoppers have a view of the café, which is located above the bakery and allows those using it to watch the on-the-floor action while sipping a skinny latte.

Unlike the majority of large supermarkets, which tend to locate the butcher and fish counters at the back of the store, these have been placed to the left of the fruit and veg, en route to the café. This makes the initial area in the store a completely fresh offer, bearing rather more resemblance to a true market than many market-style layouts that are found in other grocers’ stores.

“The initial area in the store is a completely fresh offer, bearing rather more resemblance to a true market than many market-style layouts that are found in other grocers’ stores”

Before heading beyond the fresh area, the shopper may decide to visit the café and can make use of the lock-up cupboards to park a semi-full shopping trolley. The lock-ups are located at the foot of the stairs leading up to the café and, again, this is different from the average supermarket, where the reward of a hot beverage awaits those who have completed their shop and passed through the checkouts.

The café offers breakfast, light bites and lunch, and its blue faux-slate walls and wooden-plank low walls draw in customers in need of a break.

The rear of the store is about general merchandise and there are constant reminders along the aisles to ‘discover even more online’ and ‘click+collect direct to this store’, as well as the Tesco brand promise offering reductions in price on a like-for-like basis.

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Tesco Bicester

Wine boxes are used as displays in the drinks department

Wine showstopper

This store offers everything from consumer electronics to a large F&F clothing offer by way of a heavily branded beauty aisle. The real showstopper as the shopping journey comes to an end is the wine department. This has broad aisles, a switch of floor covering to vinyl-wood planks and wooden wine cases used as display vehicles at the end of each gondola.

The generous amount of space that has been devoted to the department helps with the impression of a comprehensive offer. And the mix of low mid-shop equipment and wood cladding on the gondolas that define each of the department’s aisles, give this area a completely different feel from the rest of the store and one in which shoppers are encouraged to linger.

The checkouts are what you’d expect of a large grocer with a glass store frontage and there were no lines of waiting shoppers, adding to the impression of efficiency, with a separate space for self-scan checkouts.

Bicester has an estimated population of 31,000 and continues to grow rapidly. With a new, very substantial Tesco in place that boasts much of the retailer’s latest thinking, the town is well provided for as its size and economy shift. It is a measure of the pace of change that Tesco has chosen Bicester for a massive relocation.

Bicester may have been referred to as a “Tesco town” by some, but in this instance it is a good thing.

Tesco, Bicester

Size 90,000 sq ft

Layout A single floor with a mezzanine for the café

Design In-house

Opened April 14, 2016

Highlights The wine department and café