In-store change at Waitrose is incremental, but the new Worcester branch offers exciting add-ons that urge shoppers to stick around. John Ryan visits.
Restaurants, bars, cafes – they all offer pleasant experiences and are the sorts of places you might seek out. The same is unlikely to be said of a supermarket. For the most part visiting a large supermarket can be a “chore”, as Anthony Wysome, head of store development at Waitrose, puts it.
In the past you would head for the supermarket with the intention of getting around it as fast as possible, putting your selections on a conveyor belt at the checkout and heaving a sigh as the other lanes seem to be move rather more quickly.
As a model, the supermarket has been in place for around half a century. Wysome makes reference to “peak-end theory”.
This holds that in any given situation there are two things that are likely to be remembered – the peak point of enjoyment and the end of an experience.
Or put in the context of a supermarket, it is probable that something may be enjoyable en route to the checkout and it is equally likely that the end point in the journey, payment, will also be remembered, perhaps negatively.
Wysome says that shoppers will forgive a grocer the annoyance of a badly handled checkout, but that it may take some time and will certainly colour their view if things are not handled smoothly and efficiently.
Looking for answers
Yet can this be mitigated, and does a trip to the supermarket have to be a chore? The newly opened Waitrose in Worcester may provide a few answers. This is a 45,000 sq ft branch and as the approach by car is made to the store it looks like a standard Waitrose. There’s nothing wrong with this, as for practical purposes it means a building that features a fair amount of glass and wood and has the sleek lines and architectural presence that makes the onlooker think “eco design”.
Yet such is the line of development that has taken place at the retailer that this structure passes the no logo test and if the name were removed there would be a fighting chance the shopper would know what shop it was.
“The branch worries less about the checkouts, although they remain important, and more about giving shoppers reasons to remain in the store”
The interior is where the real action is in developing store design. “How can the supermarket go beyond something that is a chore?” has underpinned much store design thinking over the past few years at Waitrose, according to Wysome.
The branch worries less about the checkouts, although they remain important, and more about giving shoppers reasons to remain in the store. And it’s likely the first thing the Worcester shopper will notice, other than the clean lines that characterise a modern Waitrose and the substantial welcome desk, is the sushi island.
The sushi island is just beyond the welcome desk and Sushi Daily is theatre in its own right. Wysome remarks that the initial popularity of this part of the store is proof that the green-tea drinking classes are not confined to some of the more chichi areas of London and that sushi consumption adapts perfectly well to the shires.
“Two elderly ladies were busy debating the merits of California rolls and sashimi in a way that would have put Clerkenwell sophisticates to shame”
In this instance, the prime space that has been given to what is, in effect, a concession, is confirmation that if you put uniformed chefs in a space preparing the products in situ, it will gather attention and custom.
On the day of visiting, two elderly ladies were busy debating the merits of California rolls and sashimi in a way that would have put Clerkenwell sophisticates to shame.
There is more to Sushi Daily than just a counter, however. Immediately behind the island is a series of benches and long tables of the kind found in Wagamama. The deal is that shoppers can choose their sushi and, rather than heading for the exit, consume it in store.
And this, perhaps, is the ethos than informs much of what this ‘supermarket’ is about. Instead of the straightforward acquisition of comestibles, what is on offer is a broad range of food and drink-related experiences, ranging from a sushi bar to a bar. The latter is actually quite similar to the bar and light bite area in the King’s Cross store which opened last year and, as in that outpost, shoppers can choose a bottle of wine from the range and for a modest corkage can then consume in store.
More than a store
Branch manager Scott Whittaker relates that it is not uncommon for visitors to the store to come in, have coffee and cake, perhaps do a little shopping and then to move seamlessly on to lunch. In the process they will have spent several hours in the store.
Worth noting too is the community room – an enclosed space in the heart of the store where bodies from the Battle of Worcester Society to the NHS can book a slot and have a meeting, seminar or suchlike. The service is free but, as Wysome says, there’s a fair chance that they will eat some of the good-looking sandwiches that are on offer.
Sitting in the cafe at the end of the visit, Whittaker says: “I actually geared myself up for people to come to me and say that they didn’t like it.”
Fortunately for him, and Waitrose, it has instead been praised for bringing something different to Worcester.
The Waitrose store development journey in the bigger branches has been a long one that has taken several years so far and the changes are generally incremental. That said, it does seem that every time a new store opens there is something else to look at.
Size: 45,000 sq ft
Opened: June 2016
Branch manager: Scott Whittaker
Ambiance: Experience not acquisition
Highlight: The bar