Residents in revolt against supermarkets

But 'chattering classes' blamed for cloning of High Streets

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Sainsbury's ditch fast track - System at Chiswick store receives flood of complaints

What's happening on Chiswick High Road - new store openings suggests advance of chain stores is being halted

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As the ever intensifying competition between the supermarket giants leads to yet more store openings in West London signs are growing of an increasingly negative reaction from local residents.

Following the recent opening of a Tesco Express on King Street and the acquistion of Cullens on Chiswick High Road, news of the company's plans to redevelop the UCG cinema site at Hammersmith has led to a backlash from residents.

There will be a meeting for local residents at the Rivercourt Methodist Church on 2nd September at 7.30 to discuss the situation. Which will see the demolition of the nearby parade of shops and some local homes.

For Sainsbury's customers are increasingly voicing disquiet about quality and service within the Chiswick store. A news report on the abandonment of the Fast Track service at the outlet was followed by a flood of complaints and frustration about the lack of response from the supermarket giant who have been replying to queries with pro-forma answers without addressing specific questions.

Sainsbury's have declined to answer our requests for comment on the amount of complaints from customers but an insider at the company did tell us that the Chiswick store has unique problems which are difficult to address. The store has the largest sales per square foot of any of their outlets, and this, combined with the large car park at the site makes it difficult to avoid the level of check-out queuing at the store and makes managing stock a problem. The introduction of services like Fast Track and self-checkout were designed to alleviate these problems but so far they have had little impact. It is felt by some employees that management at the top level of the company have stopped trusting their middle managers and become over reliant on expensive management consultants. Rumours of a move of head office from central London and controversy over the massive bonus paid to Sir Peter Davis have also sapped morale.

Many local people are turning to on-line shopping for their weekly grocery shop but the 'Sainsbury's to You' service appears to be much less popular than the Ocado service from Waitrose and Tesco's on-line service.

Residents are increasingly resentful of what is seen as the economic colonisation of local high stores by remote and out of touch national companies. Their expansion is often done with the explicit intent of squeezing out smaller locally owned competition. Starbucks adopts a market strategy of deliberately saturating an area with outlets to force the closure of competition. However this strategy appears to have come unstuck in Chiswick where they closed one outlet having failed to knock out any of the local operators. One local coffee shop owner told us that many customers told her that they were deliberately spending more with her to ensure survival against Starbucks.

Retail research analyst Richard Hyman, in an article in the Times, put the blame squarely on 'the chattering classes' for the rise of national chains. He claimed it was a myth that most people objected to them pointing out that they survive and thrive because enough people buy their products. He said, "The chattering classes do their shopping at supermarkets and do not practise what they preach." He predicted that the trend of squeeezing out more smaller businesses will continue for the next twenty years. However he did acknowledge a key weakness of the chain stores saying, "they find it difficult to think and act locally. The customer is king used to be an adage, but it has never been more true than today."

It remains to be seen whether the customer in West London chooses the price and choice that the chain stores can offer over the quality and personal service typical of locally owned businesses.

August 29, 2004