In the late 1970s my first job was as a grocery sales rep. There were many more supermarket chains in those days (remember Crazy Prices, Fine Fare, Galbraiths, Grandways, Hillards, International, Kwik Save, Liptons, Normans, Stewarts, Templeton, Victor Value, Wm Low – to name a few?)
One East Midlands group was called Supasave – large dingy outlets where chronically angry assistant managers barked out orders, but you couldn’t run away because your soles stuck to the floor.
It was a depressing experience to do a sales call – and I used to pity the customers. There were never any staff and I would get asked where to find products I hadn’t heard of. I could only conclude they shopped there because it was handy – the single biggest factor in selling anything.
I can’t help being overwhelmed by a feeling of déjà vu when I visit one of today’s so-called ‘discounters’. The obscure range, the untidy merchandising, the absence of smiles – a retro encounter of the unwelcome kind.
Yet the media would have it that the discounters are going like gangbusters. I’m not so sure that this isn’t simply a function of the acquisition of real estate. Even the cattle-class airlines are being forced to upgrade their service levels (such as pre-allocated seat numbers) – perhaps because they sense at last the latent alienation felt by consumers.
When the good times roll, loyalty will be tested, and I suspect some retailers will need every square inch of those sticky floors.