Waitrose is gearing up to launch what will be its most significant store renewal programme for a decade. Executive director James Bailey outlined the multi-million plans to The Telegraph over the weekend, although was short on detail. 

Any one expecting a new dawn of brand new, and innovative Waitrose supermarkets should taper their expectations.

Waitrose isn’t aiming to reinvent the wheel here - the overall number of Waitrose stores – which currently number 329 – is not expected to change significantly. 

It’s about making its stores customer friendly, and ensuring that its legacy stores, some of which haven’t been touched for years, are in the right place.

That will no doubt involve a refresh of some but will mostly focus on relocating those that no longer work. For example, away from a high street location with limited parking to a more out of town site within the same postcode that has a large car park.

In that sense ditching “terribly organised” stores as Bailey said, is a smart move for Waitrose.

Waitrose remains committed to premium

Bailey knows what Waitrose customers like and has no plans on stepping away from its premium principles that it’s known for.

It’s newly revamped Kings Road store in Chelsea is evidence to that. In what was its most significant relaunch of late, the flagship store reopened in March to much fanfare. Rather than a swathe of innovative new features and formats, the main focus of the refit saw the addition of a cheese counter and dry-aged beef cabinet, as well as the extension of existing food to go, meat and fish counters. In essence the latest versions of its existing thinking.

If there’s likely to be any noticeable change of tack, it will be on the convenience front. Bailey has long talked of plans to target more Little Waitrose convenience stores after seeing a surge in sales for food to go products. The early success of its £5 Lunch Meal Deal launch this summer is likely to have enhanced those ambitions.

Sporadic periods of poor availability

There is still work to do – not least on finishing the long-running overhaul of its IT and logistics infrastructure – both Bailey and John Lewis Partnership bosses know this. The Grocer understands the store renewal project forms one tranche of a multi-year plan covering retailer’s logistics infrastructure and personnel, as well as its store footprint.

Waitrose’s latest half-year results showed it can still draw customers into stores – even if the cost of living crisis means that its still struggling to get them to spend as much.

Sales grew 4% to £3.7bn in the 26 weeks to 29 July, but volumes were down 5%.

Its store experience is one area where Waitrose has, and continues to stand out. Despite sporadic periods of poor availability over the past year, Waitrose continues to score highly for its customer service standards, regularly coming first in the Grocer 33, including three out of the past four weeks.

Its people, together with its high animal welfare and ingredients standards, remain its key point of difference, and areas in which it continues to outplay the market.

Combining those standards with shinier, more efficient shops will be a crucial part of its route back to success.