The grocer has opened two convenience stores on high streets in London that could offer a new template for further expansion.
For many retailers, opening two high street stores would hardly be worthy of comment. But for Asda it is a departure.
In the past the giant grocer has made a point of eschewing the dash for high street cash, preferring to trade from much larger stores on the edge of towns with large car parks as part of the proposition.
But travel to Wealdstone or Deptford, in suburban northwest and southeast London respectively, and Asda has at last staked its claim to the high street, following in the wake of the other big three supermarkets and Waitrose.
Until now the retailer had chosen to offer convenience by expanding online operations, which it will continue to do.
The 12,430 sq ft Wealdstone store was the first to open, at the end of last month, and was followed by the 6,000 sq ft store on Deptford High Street, on July 2.
Deptford High Street is certainly prime territory for Asda. It is pretty obviously one of the capital’s less wealthy areas and the new Asda has a Poundland, a raft of discount stores and a fading Tesco Metro for neighbour
Indeed, the shop is on the site of a former branch of 99p Stores, although all traces of that heritage have been excised.
The new Asda logo is proudly displayed on a bus-stop-style sign that can be seen from a long way up the high street.
To the left of the entrance an Asda ATM offers free cash withdrawals and to the right a window decal declares: “We’re open 7-11.”
The opening hours are c-store standard, but step inside and it feels rather more like a supermarket.
The simple reason is the sense of space.
“The opening hours are c-store standard, but step inside and this feels rather more like a supermarket”
As in the great majority of metropolitan convenience stores the ‘fresh’ area is just inside the entrance and the overwhelming sense is that it is uncharacteristically large for a format of this kind.
As proof perhaps, one shopper notes to another: “I had no idea it was this big when I looked in”.
There is in fact something Tardis-like about the interior and it does not feel like the maximum amount has been crammed into the minimum amount of square footage.
The fresh department is located across the floor from the checkouts and self-scan area and while there are a good number of self-scan terminals, Asda has not shied away from offering manned tills – something that its rivals seem less inclined to do.
In the middle of the checkout area there is a click-and-collect desk.
A quick glance at the cupboard containing the click-and-collect orders reveals that this may be a new store but it has hit the ground running as far as ordering from a computer or mobile and collecting in-store is concerned.
Fulfilment of click-and-collect orders takes place from the grocer’s Charlton superstore 2.9 miles, or 10 minutes away. Practically, that means it is possible to order and collect on the same day, available slots permitting.
Beyond that and just behind the fresh area is the bakery. As in some of its rivals, this is a c-store where much of what is displayed in this department is baked in-store.
For Asda it is a feature of the shop, and like all in-store bakeries, the staff were doing their best to keep what appears one of the store’s more popular areas filled and looking winsome.
Next is the ambient offer, which is almost as broad as would normally be expected in a store twice the size.
A large part of this area of the store is not visible from the front, owing to the fact that there is an architectural dog-leg that keeps things out of sight. But for those who do venture this far into the shop the overriding impression is one of value.
Given the shop’s location in the middle of a discount haven it is little surprise to find that the £1 message is remorselessly banged home with shelf-edge ‘wobblers’ at every turn.
It is somewhat counter-intuitive when viewed within the convenience universe, where the usual emphasis is on items that the shopper might need now or for this evening, rather than low price.
That in turn points towards the fact that this is a mid-range store in terms of size. Not much larger and it would be a small supermarket, rather than a c-store, but the opening hours and its position as the dominant force on a local high street indicate something to the contrary.
And so to the alcohol. No self-respecting c-store would be without this category – it is, particularly at the weekend, a reason that many might choose to drop into a shop of this kind.
On the ground in Asda Deptford it is one of the areas where choice, as much as price, is at the heart of the proposition.
For those who are interested, there is plenty of fun-price drinking to be had but, for the Deptford connoisseur, a decent looking bottle of Macon Villages will hit the purse to the tune of £10.25, which is about right for a medium to better-end bottle of white Burgundy.
“This store treads that fine line between appealing to the price-conscious without abandoning the idea of quality”
All of this is assisted by an un-shouty graphics package that relies as much on images of fresh food as it does on brand and price reminders.
This store treads that fine line between appealing to the price-conscious without abandoning the idea of quality.
Asda has said it will not open any more high street stores this year, but it is quite hard to see it stopping at this one. What it has created is a good-looking smaller store format that could work in many locations - and shoppers don’t need to drive to it to get what they need.
It also feels more spacious than many of the offers from more established high street grocery players.
Given the relative paucity of Asda’s coverage in the South of England, it does appear to be something that could give the grocer the edge in locations where it might previously have struggled to make an impact.
Opened July 2
Size 6,000 sq ft
Features Bakery, fresh and click-and-collect
Ambience More half-pint sized supermarket than c-store
Appeal A democratic format for all comers