Pitsea is on the fringes of the Essex metropolis of Basildon and one of its more conspicuous features is a giant flyover. Beneath this structure is the UK’s largest Tesco Extra, by floor space at least.
Address Off Station Lane, Pitsea, Essex
Format design In-house and Four IV
Opened after refurbishment November 26
And within this vast (around 145,000 sq ft) space there is, of course, an F&F shop-in-shop. Nothing terribly remarkable about this perhaps, except that it is currently one of only two of its kind in the UK. Having just come through a refurbishment, the F&F area within the store has more in common with the standalone F&Fs in the Czech Republic than it does with anything in this country. By any standards this makes it interesting, if only for the reason that what is on view in Pitsea looks set to be taken across the rest of the estate as part of the more general Tesco in-store upgrade that has been taking place this year.
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
It may be a value-led supermarket clothing brand, but this doesn’t mean that this has to be a case of low-end visual merchandising. In Pitsea, graphic interest is provided by the extensive use of fashion images, with almost every mid-floor piece of equipment boasting a mood shot, while close to the cash desk there are digital screens bearing F&F content. There is more of a sense of departments within a fashion shop than would normally be the case with a standard supermarket clothing offer.
And within each department there are vignettes featuring mannequins, used to tell merchandise stories rather than the customary, commodity-based offer that tends to characterise this end of the market.
02 - CONCEPT
The idea of creating a shop-in-shop is an attractive one if you are working with large spaces, but is only possible if a difference can be made manifest from the rest of the store. To achieve this, F&F in Pitsea takes what has been done in the F&F standalone stores and adapts it. Practically, this means black metal-framed pieces of equipment, a floor covering that looks like ash and which is distinct from the rest of the store, as well as signage that sets its apart.
03 - SERVICE
The thing about fashion stores is that in order to work they need service as part of the proposition. This is straightforward in a small unit, but the bigger the space, the harder it is to achieve. Nowhere is this more the case than in a supermarket where self-service is the order of the day. There is certainly a degree of service in the Pitsea F&F, insofar as everything was filled up and staff were on hand to help. But this remains, and should do so, a self-service offer. Anything else and margins come under pressure.
04 - PRODUCT
Even by the most exacting and Primark-influenced standards, F&F prices are low and this is a fashionable offer. The ranges tick most of the current fashion boxes with the denim department serving as a prime example with a broad selection of washes and leg shapes stretching from bootlegs to skinny.Also, it is the sense of fashion stories, rather than bulk offers, that make this a serious proposition for supermarket shoppers. This is family fashion, but presented so the emphasis is on fashion ahead of family.
05 - COMPETITION
The competition for F&F comes thick and fast in the shape of the clothing offers from both Asda and Sainsbury’s and then on the high street from Primark. And in spite of all best efforts, if it’s zeitgeisty fashion that is sought, then Primark probably remains the default choice. In large measure, price is, of course, the starting point for many who approach the F&F offer in the UK and on this reckoning it does measure up. This needs to be coupled, however, with a fashion ambience if it is to convince, and by this yardstick Primark again edges things.
06 - VERDICT - Standalones also required
This is not what you expect of a UK supermarket clothing offer and in-store environment, and the sum of those two parts is greater than the individual constituents. The real point is whether this will find favour if it is rolled out across the many differently sized Tesco stores that comprise the UK estate. It probably will and it is definitely an improvement on what went before. One can’t help feeling, however, that the way forward might include a smattering of standalone F&F outlets – it would lend a deal of credibility to the whole enterprise.