The cost of living crisis has not exactly done wonders for in-store theatre. Counters and in-store bakeries have been ripped out in their droves, while the supermarkets that have retained their various meat, fish, cheese and other ‘street’ counter concepts (Morrisons, Waitrose, Booths) seem to have suffered the most.
The exception has been Marks & Spencer, and one reason for its continued resurgence is that it has had the funds to modernise, taking in-store theatre to new levels with its exciting concepts and superb execution.
That’s not been an option for Morrisons et al. The Market Street concept is feeling old and tired. So it will be fascinating to see what new CEO Rami Baitiéh does to the stores, or whether it’s some other aspect of customer service that he can meaningfully improve to compensate for its lack of competitiveness on price. All eyes will be on the Frenchman to see if he can replicate the successful ‘555’ blueprint he developed at Carrefour.
As in-store theatre has been ripped out of supermarkets, it’s fascinating therefore that Booths is going the other way, introducing more manned tills and taking out self-service checkouts as part of a wider store refurbishment programme. It’s a truly counter-cultural move with the aim of improving customer service. And there’s no doubt that, as supermarkets have introduced more SSCOs, there has been growing disaffection, with a petition from one OAP last year calling on Tesco to ban them signed by over 250,000 people at the last count. Analysis of data from The Grocer earlier this year showed lengthening queues forming at the remaining tills.
On the other hand, there are many who prefer self-service, with many of the original issues with the technology now resolved. And while zigging while others zag, switching from price to quality, it comes at a cost: bringing back manned tills will add to the Booths wage bill at a time when it’s struggling with wage inflation amid plummeting profits. Will Booths bring in enough extra footfall and revenue to offset the extra costs? That’s the bet it’s effectively making, and it’s a brave one.