Could the era of hours and days lost inside the hangar-sized branches of Tesco be coming to an end?
On the back of disastrous results (just announced: a whopping 52 per cent drop in profits), the retail behemoth has brought plans to develop 100 sites in its portfolio to a screeching halt. This may be bad news for some: I suppose if you live in the middle of nowhere, the prospect of a mega-shop for all your needs may be welcome. But for most, it represents something very different. The completion of a circle.
Where once we had high streets and a shop for each need, Tesco and the other big supermarkets started taking over those roles. With acres of space, it could offer us somewhere to not just shop for groceries, but clothes, homeware, technology. In time, we could get our prescriptions filled, our eyes tested and post our parcels there. Then it became almost the venue for a grand family day out, with Nando’s on site, plans to bring in kid-friendly Giraffe restaurants and (now) the cod-indie coffee shop Harris + Hoole.
If the idea was ultimate convenience, Tesco certainly accompanied it with the ending of choice. Is it really more convenient to cart your post, your ailments, your hungry children and your search for the best mid-heel summer sandal to one shop? No, because you are only getting a very limited choice. It’s all a bit… dystopian.
It would be naïve to think that Britain is on the point of abandoning the mega-shop. But Tesco scooped up vast tracts of land just as many of us were starting to embrace the idea of online shopping, where the concept of “shopping around” really is limitless. And the retail tanker just couldn’t turn around quickly enough, it seems.
I like moseying around a supermarket – for certain products – because it’s one of the very few times I am “alone”. But another interesting statistic released yesterday was that those people who do a lot of high-street shopping (the kind that involves moving around, rather than taking a travelator from the bakery aisle to the flat-screen TV department) burn about 14,000 extra calories a year walking something approaching 200 miles in the course of a year. So if nothing else, that’s an incentive to give up on the Tesco model and get back to individual shops.
Although how long will it be before the suits at Tesco, stung not only by their acres of white elephant land but also by their big failure in the US, dream up a plan to break apart their empire back into individual shops, all owned by them? It would be a very unwholesome version of that Beatles film where the band members each let themselves into the front door of their adjacent terraced houses, only to reveal that once inside, it was all one big room. Scary.