Store Wars; They Started with Food. Now Britain's Big Three Supermarkets, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's Can Provide You with Everything from Cooking Utensils and Car Insurance to the Latest Paperbacks and a Pharmacy Service. So Why Are Supermarkets Superceding Every Other Shop on the High Street, Asks Post Style Editor Caroline Foulkes

The Birmingham Post (England), October 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

Store Wars; They Started with Food. Now Britain's Big Three Supermarkets, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's Can Provide You with Everything from Cooking Utensils and Car Insurance to the Latest Paperbacks and a Pharmacy Service. So Why Are Supermarkets Superceding Every Other Shop on the High Street, Asks Post Style Editor Caroline Foulkes


Byline: CAROLINE FOULKES

We want it all. Like spoilt children, we say we want one thing. And then straightaway, we want something else. .

We want our bread buttered on both sides, we want jam today and tomorrow, we want to have our cake and eat it. Oh, and could you put a cherry on that, too?

But we can't have it all ways. Earlier this year, a survey carried out by ICM for trade magazine Retail Week revealed that around 60 per cent of us are worried about the growing power of supermarkets. Eight out of ten people questioned for the survey said they felt the government should introduce rules to ensure they acted in the public interest. Tesco in particular was singled out as being "too big and powerful". And 40 per cent said they felt that the supermarkets continued expansion meant smaller, local shops were going out of business. A further 19 per cent said that they were "very worried".

In addition to this, 89 per cent of respondents said they were happy with the choice of product available where they did their main grocery shopping, which for most was - yes, you've guessed it - the supermarket. Like the contrary Marys we are, we pine for the "good old days" and the corner shops of our childhood, but continue to shop at supermarkets, the very thing we believe has contributed to the decline of the local shop.

"The British public have a love/hate relationship with supermarkets," says freelance financial journalist Judi Bevan, author of Trolley Wars The Battle of the Supermarkets. "But 30 million of us shop at supermarkets every week.

"I think that where supermarkets and small local shops are concernedwe have this rose-tinted view of what the past was like. People talk about small shops in a way that suggests they are good, but you get good and bad ones, just the same as with anything else. A lot of the shops we used before supermarkets were actually pretty horrible, and some of the shopkeepers weren't always honest - there were a lot of scams going on. Whatever your feelings towards them, for my money supermarkets have the consumer a much better deal."

So are supermarkets really to blame for the decline of the small shop? Judy doesn't think so.

"I think it's actually the customers who are to blame. Supermarkets are popular because they are hugely convenient - it means the whole family can go and get what they want. And it's this convenience more than anything else that has driven the supermarkets growth - people's desire to shop quickly and easily all under one roof."

It's a desire that seems to grow apace - and one that supermarkets have tapped into.

Life is short. Too short to spend dragging a couple of screaming kids to the butchers, the bakers and the grocers before taking them into town to buy new school shoes for little Johnny. The supermarkets know this. So they offer the opportunity to buy those shoes, that shirt, that new iron, in store - leaving you with more quality time to spend on taking the kids swimming or to the park rather than having to force them to try on that nice pair of sensible school shoes against their will. The fact that they offer these things at bargain prices only makes the whole experience more pleasing.

While on a recent trip to Newcastle, I happened to visit the Tesco Extrastore at Kingston Park. It is jawdroppingly vast. It has everything (well, ok, almost everything) you could ever need. And it's cheap. You'll never shop anywhere else again.

So how did it start, the supermarkets' colonisation of almost every corner of the retail market?

Well, it started with a bunch of tea towels. Well, about ten thousand dozen tea towels, to be more precise. "Tesco was the first to really extend its range beyond just food," says Judi. "It must have been around the early Seventies, and it was one of the directors, Leslie Porter's doing. He bought along some tea towels one day and they just laid them out in one store. …

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Store Wars; They Started with Food. Now Britain's Big Three Supermarkets, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's Can Provide You with Everything from Cooking Utensils and Car Insurance to the Latest Paperbacks and a Pharmacy Service. So Why Are Supermarkets Superceding Every Other Shop on the High Street, Asks Post Style Editor Caroline Foulkes
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