Supermarket rivals go off their trolley

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The Independent Online
NIGEL COPE

Sainsbury unveiled its latest weapon in the supermarket wars yesterday: the wonky trolley pledge. It says that from Monday the wonky trolley with a mind of its own will be a thing of the past at its stores.

Anyone finding a dysfunctional cart will have it replaced with a reliable version while a "trolley doctor" takes the broken cart to an area dubbed "trolley hospital" where it will be nursed back to wheel-whizzing health.

The great trolley promise is part of an initiative that Sainsbury describes as the most significant marketing initiative in its 125-year history. Even the chairman, David Sainsbury, was sporting a yellow "Happy to Help" badge yesterday in support of the cause.

However, rivals have rubbished the campaign as little more than a retread of ideas already in practice elsewhere. Safeway says its stores are home to the ultimate trolley machine, the pounds 100 GTi go-faster EasySteer. Tesco says that it launched some of Sainsbury's "new ideas" a while ago.

Perhaps it was the success of Tesco's Club Card loyalty scheme, which helped to topple Sainsbury from its perch as Britain's largest grocery retailer, that has prompted its action.

But from Monday, Sainsbury is making customers a host of pledges: assistants will pack shopping for any customer who requests it and provide extra packers at peak times; 10 types of trolley will be available, including a new mini version for child racers who want to help their parents; staff will carry groceries to cars on request and free nappies will be available in 123 baby-changing rooms.

The shops will even warm up your baby's milk (Tesco says it already does this), provide parent and child parking (wider spaces) and offer a "go for" policy where assistants will fetch items for customers who find they have forgotten something when they reach the check-out.

Sainsbury says the "Customer First" campaign will create the equivalent of 2,000 full-time jobs and cost pounds 20m a year. It will be backed by a major advertising campaign that will push its advertising campaign well above last year's budget of pounds 16m. It was launched after 18 months' research which found that shoppers really hated long queues, dodgy trolleys and carrier bags which tear too easily. It also showed that Sainsbury's staff were "cold and unfriendly".

The proposals have left industry analysts and rivals underwhelmed. Tesco says the "Customer First" slogan is one of its old ones, and as for the kiddies' trolleys, Safeway tried them a few years ago, but found that "they get nicked".

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