Reading was our latest destination as we completed two thirds of our inaugural 12-month long mystery shopping tour of the UK.
This month, as the supermarket chains geared up for the busy Christmas period, it was Waitrose that shone out as the guiding star, in almost all categories.
In fact, first impressions placed Waitrose as a strong contender from the off; our mystery shoppers were met with the sight of an inviting clean, colourful and well stocked display of fresh produce. The premium end store scored highly in all categories except one, which was special offers. The shoppers felt that there was not a broad enough range of offers and that those available were not well promoted.
The Marks & Spencer that we visited was a ‘food only’ store, positioned on a small out-of-town Retail Park. It was really well stocked with a particularly nice arrangement of bright citrus fruit that faced shoppers as they entered the store. It was clean and well laid out, with friendly, happy staff. This all added up to M&S becoming a deserving runner up this month.
Co-op also created a welcoming display with its well-located fresh produce area. The Co-op has in recent times become synonymous with convenience stores, but the one we visited in Reading was set on a larger than average footprint and benefits from that. It was not easy to park due to the high street location, but the signage made a big impact and this coupled with particularly helpful staff led to some very strong ratings; placing the Co-op on the same average score as Morrisons this month.
Morrisons also scored well on the helpfulness of its staff, who tried extremely hard to get the most accurate answer to our questions on the day. They also did particularly well in offering a broad range of both fruit and vegetable and in presenting some very appealing aisle-end displays.
Asda also presented a well-stocked and well-located fresh produce section. It offered a good range with plenty of attractive promotions for shoppers, which coupled with decent displays encouraged some respectable ratings.
The local Aldi store had a clean an appealing exterior and helpful staff were aplenty to answer any questions. There were no particularly outstanding features or indeed any particular issues regarding this store, it was just a solid ‘good’ from our merry mystery band.
In contrast, the Lidl store was much more varied in as much as it was exceptionally well stocked and scored outstandingly for its signage. However, the staff let Lidl down, responding to our approach in a very unhelpful, even grumpy, manner. The overall score was therefore adversely affected, pushing Lidl down the rankings.
The Tesco store was an unusual one. Even though it was a Tesco-Extra, it was tucked away with a rather dim and grubby approach. Staff were not helpful or pleasant to deal with, and the fresh produce aisle was surprisingly hard to locate. There was, however, a good range of fruit and vegetables and the store itself was well stocked, with some effective promotions, but the displays themselves were not particularly attractive or tidy.
As part of the mystery shopping research, England Marketing asks a different question of the fresh produce aisle staff each month. The question this month was;
“Do frozen fruit and vegetables offer the same nutritional value as fresh?”
The staff approached gave an entirely mixed response; most tried to be helpful but the range of answers suggests that they were clearly guessing, rather than being trained to answer. It being Christmas, our mystery shoppers were able to couch the question in terms of the enquiry being centred on convenience, but still there was no consistency in the answers that came back.
Cumulative Findings to Date
Vegetable and Fruit Displays
Waitrose and M&S scored most highly this month, in relation to the attractiveness of the displays, with Tesco and Morrison’s jointly coming in second.
The Range of Vegetable and Fruit Available
Asda, Waitrose and Lidl all scored well in terms of the broadness of their range.
Promotion of Fresh Produce
In terms of promotion of fresh produce, Morrison’s continue to consistently have a great range on aisle ends, even though there was evidence across all the stores that this space was given to accommodate some of the seasonal goods including Christmas plants and nuts and dried fruit as well as in one store a full range of sauces.
December is of course an unusual month and may not be entirely representative. However, it was pleasing to find that Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and the Co-op all scored full marks for the helpfulness of their staff. It was simply M&S though that managed to gain top marks for cleanliness in-store.