How a state-of-the-art Tesco store is going down with shoppers and local retailers. Anne Bruce reports

By the time Tesco opened the doors of its flagship store in Hove, East Sussex, for the first time last week more than 400 shoppers had formed an orderly queue outside - including one elderly couple who had been there since 5:30am, determined to claim the £100 voucher given to the first customer through the door. The store remained packed throughout the day. Not too surprising given that when we quizzed local residents last month about the store they were eagerly awaiting its opening (‘Arrival of the juggernaut’, August 23, p36).

In that feature we also interviewed local retailers to see what impact they thought it would have on their business. Back then, we didn’t know that the store would be packed with new features such as the coffee shop or gizmos like self-scanning tills and shelf-edge labelling. But many retailers were still concerned. And now the Tesco has opened, we revisited them and found their sales have been hit (see box).

Walking around the 37,000 sq ft store you can understand why shoppers love it and rival retailers are right to be so worried. The decor is bright and the shelf-edge labelling gives it a futuristic look. And it is technology that is really impressing the staff. The digital shelf-edge labelling saves them time, they report, because they can now alter prices at the flick of a switch from a central computer. “It saves going round the store changing prices and checking that point-of-sale hasn’t fallen off,” says one employee.

However, changes may be made to the size of the lettering after trials revealed that some elderly customers found the size of the “print” on the labels too small to read. Staff have been asked to monitor the situation.

The 10 self-scanning tills make up the largest self-checkout installation anywhere in the UK. Staff in Hove are actively encouraging shoppers to try them out and although some are wary of the technology, some people are said to have made special visits to the store to try them out.

As well as a raft of new technology, the store boasts a broad product range, with its 19,000 lines including new ethnic products and a range of artisan breads from Tesco’s first in-store Finest bakery. There is also a self-service olive bar and a new ‘grab and go’ deli counter offering pre-sliced meats and cheeses to combat long queues. The coffee shop - the chain’s first American-style coffee bar in the UK - proved to be an unqualified success on day one with queues stretching around the mezzanine floor where it is situated. A member of staff puts its popularity down to comfortable seats, big windows, and coffee at half the price of the coffee shop chains.

Not all customers are happy. Some grumbled that the sizeable store has no central walkway bisecting the product aisles which they say causes congestion in the busier areas. Tesco counters that it has already reduced the risk of congestion by getting rid of shelving in parts of the store and allocating the space for loading cages, “so we don’t get in your way when we re-stock,” as the posters put it.

Hove is packed with neat ideas like this, all designed to make life easier for both customers and staff. Having ‘adopted’ the Hove store in August, we’ll be keeping an eye on its progress - particularly how the new technology has gone performed. And we’ll be back later this year to see if the views of shoppers and rival retailers have changed.