Are the supermarkets doing a better job in non food than the high street? James Durston reports

When the supermarkets first took on the high street in the battle for the non food pound, the only advantages that high street retailers arguably had was range, customer service and product knowledge.

Not any longer, suggests exclusive research from Harris Interactive.

More than 2,000 British consumers were asked to compare supermarket shopping for non food items with high-street shopping. They were asked to assess value, ease to shop, offers and discounts, quality, availability, variety, customer service, range of brands and information and advice.

The majority say that supermarkets now provide not only better value and promotions in non food, but also better quality, better customer service and better information and advice.

In each area, most consumers say supermarkets are either just as satisfactory or more so than high street stores. Very few feel they are less satisfactory. Value, ease to shop and offers and discounts are cited as the supermarkets' biggest strengths.

Some 36% of the consumers polled say that their supermarket offers better customer service than the high street stores compared with 13% who say service is not as good.

And 39% are more satisfied with the quality of the non food compared with 10% who are less satisfied, and 24% say supermarkets give better information and advice compared with 17% who prefer the high street.

Tania Jackson, associate director at Harris Interactive and report co-author, says: "Not only does this survey show consumers' high levels of reliance on supermarkets, but also their increasing trust in them."

But other analysts believe the high street still has an advantage. Teather & Greenwood retail analyst Sanjay Vidyarthi says: "I think customer service is still in the high street's favour. This isn't necessarily the case in every sector. You don't need the same advice in clothing as you might in electricals. But the level of detail in the high street is better."

However, even in electricals, 28% of consumers say they are more satisfied with the advice from supermarkets, while 14% prefer the high street.

Consumers are increasingly interested in a broader range of non food categories from supermarkets. Clothing, jewellery, credit cards, loans, cars and mortgages all now also have a place, particularly for shoppers with children, for whom convenience and value are key.

Jewellery could become very big, believes Jackson. "There's a growing fashion for accessories such as beaded jewellery, and it's a big market, but Accessorize and Claire's are the only major players."

However, the greatest growth in interest is in financial products, such as credit cards, mortgages, personal loans and legal services. Jackson says: "This is an acknowledgement of the supermarkets' power to give both good deals and quality services, but also of their ability to make things seem simpler than on the high street. The packages are more user-friendly. This area will continue to grow."

Meanwhile, supermarkets have developed their own niches in non food and a consumer's willingness to buy certain products depends on which supermarkets are offering them. Tesco is the choice when it comes to financial services and Asda is ahead in clothing, supported by its George range, and jewellery.

This means each supermarket will be looking to work harder in its weaker areas. Tesco won't be happy with second spot in both clothing and jewellery, while consumers lack the confidence they show in Tesco when it comes to Asda's financial services.

Jackson says: "Tesco's lead is due to it having a strong focus early on. And as it is currently the number one supermarket, an element of trust and kudos comes with that title."

The supermarkets will keep up the pace in non food, she believes. "We are moving from a nation of shopkeepers to a supermarket state. Shopping in supermarkets for non-food has fast become the norm. And while supermarkets may threaten community stores, specialist retailers and our conscience, modern life prizes value and convenience."