We visited Lidl's largest UK store at Plainstow Retail Park in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, to see how the discounter is evolving to become more like a supermarket and how its in-store offer is adapted to a larger footprint.
From discounter to supermarket
The car park at the newly-rebuilt site is the first sign that Lidl is becoming more supermarket-like. The 143-space car park, which includes two trolley stations, allows Lidl to cope better during peak trading hours; a problem that many other stores continue to struggle with. Upon entering the store, shoppers are greeted in a clear and spacious foyer-like area with a 'Welcome to Lidl, enjoy your shop' message on the wall, and this positive communication continues throughout. Once inside, the store's size and wide aisles create yet another impression of being in a supermarket, and this is built on with the large and attractive bakery counter at the front of the store. Other fresh categories such as produce and fish are also prioritised in terms of space, however Lidl's range remains consistent with the rest of the estate, with no new lines seen in-store.
Utilising space in new ways
Due to the size of the store, Lidl has been able to try new things. This includes the addition of customer toilets, a way in which Lidl is clearly trying to enhance the customer experience. Around the store, more free standing display units are found compared to smaller stores, allowing Lidl to stock higher volume of fast-selling promotional lines. Additional space was incorporated on the freezers where small units were merchandised to inspire impulse purchases on complementary products such as mustard. Overall, however, the store is laid out in the same way as the rest of the estate, showing how Lidl is maintaining efficiencies and sticking to what it knows best despite the increased size.
Introduction of self-checkouts
The most surprising of all Lidl's initiatives in Letchworth is the inclusion of self-checkouts. Along with five regular checkouts, Lidl has eight self-checkouts which are managed by a colleague throughout the day. Considering Lidl's low cost operating model, this development was not expected, however shoppers in the UK are accustomed to self-checkouts, making it a sensible step for Lidl as part of its customer-focused strategy. Technology in this store extends further to a feedback screen at the store exit to ask customers how satisfied they were with their shopping.
What do we think?
The Letchworth store is an impressive discount experience, however if Lidl continues to open similar large stores, will shoppers increasingly see it as a mainstream retailer as opposed to a discounter? MD Ronny Gottschlich has made it clear that he considers Lidl to be a supermarket and this store shows how it is possible to maintain a discount proposition in a larger format. From our recent ShopperVista Channel Focus research, we know that range is the biggest barrier to conducting a main shop. With Lidl's strong marketing both inside and outside of the store, we can expect Lidl to continue going from strength-to-strength in the UK market.
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