Shoppers forsake loyalty in favour of convenience

JEAN ALLEN shopped at Waitrose for seven years before switching two months ago to Tesco. Now, she says, she would not go back.

'It's the hassle,' she said. 'You have to queue up to have your fruit and veg weighed and priced. If someone forgets, you get an awful hold-up at the check-out. Whoever heard of anyone queuing up twice these days? It's almost like back in the olden times.

'Things go wrong with the tills because they tap in the prices. A few months ago I found that I had paid pounds 12 too much because there was something wrong with one of the buttons on the till. It wasn't the poor girl's fault but it was inconvenient to have to go back and get a refund. At Tesco you get a full print-out of everything you have bought and you can watch the prices on high screens above the tills as your goods are checked out.'

Like Mrs Allen, a 45-year-old receptionist, many who live in central Cambridgeshire have abandoned Waitrose supermarkets in Huntingdon, St Ives and St Neots in favour of the Tesco superstore on the outskirts of Huntingdon which opened last August. The Waitrose in the centre of the town has lost 37 per cent of its business in the past four months and St Ives and St Neots 25 per cent and 19.3 per cent.

Customers say that although staff are more attentive at Waitrose and the food is of a higher quality, the superstore which, unlike Waitrose, offers late-night shopping six nights a week and opens on Sundays and bank holidays with free parking, is more convenient.

Susan McBride, 32, who moved to Huntingdon from Elgin in Grampian last month, visited Waitrose for the first time on Wednesday. 'We don't have Waitrose in Scotland and I thought I would go and have a look,' she said. 'The staff were very helpful and polite. They offered to carry my shopping because I am pregnant.'

But she chose Tesco yesterday because of the greater choice - the store sells everything from woks to pot-pourri - and cheap petrol.

Staff and shoppers said Sunday opening was an advantage. Beverly, a sales assistant, said staff were 'queuing up' to do the Sunday and bank holiday overtime at pounds 8 an hour instead of the usual pounds 4.

Some, however, said they would stick with Waitrose. Kate Melvin, 40, who described herself as 'an experienced shopper', said: 'I have shopped in Waitrose for 20 years and I will continue to do so. Maybe they have lagged behind a bit with the new technology but the quality is high and I don't find it more expensive. People who go to Tesco are behaving like sheep. I am going to stay loyal.'

(Photograph omitted)