Firstly, the cash desk – usually piled high with offers and with staff bursting with pride at being part of this great retail institution. Secondly, couple this with more offers, scattered – almost at random – across the front of the store. If you’re lucky, the vinyl floor will be clean but is likely to be heavily scuffed – store refits have been pretty thin on the ground, probably because of the fact that cash has been in comparatively short supply.
Now comes the real action. Pride of place is given to the pick’n’mix section, which, if you like confectionery, is probably the highlight of any visit to Woolies. But then there follows the rest of the store. The real problem with shopping at a branch of Woolworths is that consistency is not one of its hallmarks. There is a school of thought that says that having something different every time you wander into a store is a plus – witness the strategy followed by retailers such as Tchibo, Aldi and Lidl. But this is only effective if the shopper knows where the new stuff is going to be when they come in and it is promoted strongly – that's what consistency is about.
Unfortunately, much of what is on offer at Woolworths is located where it is because that is where the store management have deemed it best to put it that week. Yes, edicts from head office probably arrive in-store, detailing what should go where, but judging from most branches, these are honoured more in the breach than in the observance.
The truth of the matter is that when you go to one of these stores in search of a specific item, the chances are high that you won’t find what you want because it won’t be where you expect it to be – if it’s in stock at all.
The damning question in retailing tends to be: “If it wasn’t there, would you miss it?” Almost everything that this retailer offers is sold by someone else and the in-store environment is among the high street’s worst. On this basis alone, being brave is what viewing Woolworths as a retail proposition is about. “Kids and celebrations” may have been an appealing sound-bite strategy when it was launched, but it does not appear to have legs, arms or even a torso, come to that.