Source: The Grocer

The majority of customers look for more than a cheap store with products placed on pallets

Last week marked the opening of the first UK store of Russian retailer Mere, a hard discounter that offers low prices and low convenience, with no shelves, no service and no expectations of a pleasant shopping experience – aside from scooping a good bargain.

It’s a brave move when the majority of retailers are focused on winning customers over with service that delights, on and offline. With the likes of Amazon and Apple setting customers’ expectations, does launching a supermarket whose whole premise sits around ‘no service, just the lowest prices’ make any sense in today’s world? Or is Mere just what people need right now?

When I first heard the news of Mere launching in the UK, it brought back memories of growing up in Poland, where many retailers focused on price at the expense of the customer and staff experience. Customers were rarely right (and even if they were, admitting a mistake was hardly ever an option). The service you received was often dependent on the mood of the person behind the till (and we’re not really known for being the happiest nation in the world). You could easily get screamed at for trying to pay with too many coins, or not enough coins. Touching the wrong thing. Or just needing help to find what you need. There was even one retailer whose story made it to the big screen, after unfair – and quite frankly shocking – treatment of its supermarket staff made the headlines in the early 2000s.

Of course, a lot has changed since then, and many retailers have worked hard to match the standards customers increasingly expect. Many of them have succeeded, with a digital experience that’s seamless, innovative and effortless, and a physical experience that makes you want to stick around for longer.

Inside Mere, Preston: Russia’s ultra hard discounter opens first UK store

This is what retailers should be focusing on to achieve long-term sustainable growth, as price differentiation can only get you so far. The majority of customers look for more than a cheap store with products placed on pallets. Yes, we all want to buy things that are competitively priced, but the shopping experience matters now more than ever. Because if you don’t deliver what they expect, and you don’t make shoppers feel something positive during the few moments you have with them, someone just around the corner will.

Low-cost retailers have taught customers to expect the worst, as a good customer experience comes at a price. For some people, that trade-off is worth it. For proof, see the success of Poundland, whose owner recently witnessed a 47% surge in half-year pre-tax profits. Granted, that was gained on the back of rising prices (that rarely are just £1 any more) and reduced rent fees, but still.

So there is certainly a target market out there for Mere, but will there be an audience big enough to make it worthwhile in the long-term? In my opinion, it’s unlikely.