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Is Fresh & Easy Suited Best For Seniors?

Hallelulajah! At long last, just what we have been yearning to publish has arrived in the Pundit’s inbox. We have featured many pieces on Tesco and its Fresh & Easy operation, but the overwhelming majority of the input we have received has been negative or, if positive, came from anonymous sources unwilling to identify themselves even to the Pundit — which means we couldn’t publish their letters.

Now the Pundit e-mail inbox has provided a letter filled with thoughtful praise of the Fresh & Easy shopping experience by a vendor not only highly credible but, indeed, venerated in the industry and who is not currently selling Fresh & Easy. We publish it with pleasure:

I recently visited a Long Beach, California, Fresh & Easy store about two weeks after it opened just to see what it was like. I must admit I walked in with a rather negative view after everything I had been reading in our trade press.

I arrived just after opening between 8:30 and 9 in the morning, and I walked in behind a young mother carrying a baby in her arms and holding hands with a child over three. It had been too crowded during their opening the first time she came so she decided to come back.

I have to tell you, I loved the store! I came to look and I ended up shopping.

I have never seen a store with the facings of the products and the easy, eye level arrangements as they were in this store. Although the produce was basic and didn’t really have the variety that a gourmet shopper might want, everything was neatly and clearly displayed.

The personnel were warm and friendly … and immediately directed me to where they had free coffee (for early morning shoppers, the managers said) and they were sampling four items … one of which was watermelon.

The lighting, the VERY EASY-TO-READ GRAPHICS and price signage made selection very easy and the atmosphere was warm and friendly.

It didn’t take me long to walk the entire store, and I was impressed with the selection of items.

My reaction was so positive that I asked some of my friends in our area to visit the store … never indicating how I felt. I wanted their reaction to the store and specifically to the pricing. Mind you, these were all shoppers … not produce professionals … and their reactions were similar to mine.

Positive. And one friend who “lives and dies” at the 99-cent store thought the pricing was very good on produce, meat and basic items.

Just another perspective that I thought the industry needs to see.

Here at the Pundit we receive many letters, e-mails and phone calls every day on a full range of industry issues. Indeed, although we have been writing about Tesco’s journey to America for a long time, our assessment really became controversial when we reported that what we call The Pundit Intelligence Network — basically the industry sending in reports — was indicating that Fresh & Easy was having trouble attracting customers.

Some have seen our coverage on the issue as one-sided, but that is more a consequence of “blaming the messenger” than our message. From the beginning of Tesco’s adventure in America, we have received thoughtful and extensive letters that critiqued Tesco’s operations and the company. Some, such as here, here and here, required we maintain anonymity. Others, most recently here, have signed their names.

What positive letters we did receive, as in this one, often were not really praising the concept but just urging more time to allow Tesco to turn it around.

This new letter is different, clearly filled with genuine enjoyment for the Fresh & Easy concept. We think it instructive to identify a particular customer segment that might find Fresh & Easy very appealing.

It is said that “Living Longer Is the Best Revenge,” and one reason our correspondent is so esteemed is that this correspondent has seen much in a long life. Although we expect to be reading letters from this correspondent for decades to come, age creates a new appreciation for things such as legible signage and good lighting.

If walking is a struggle with advancing years, a smaller footprint store can be a pleasure.

And, of course, warm smiles and free cups of coffee have appeal to everyone.

It is, without a doubt, crucial to the future of Fresh & Easy that it be perceived by consumers as well-priced and so our correspondent’s letter offers much hope for the concept — at least among this market segment.

We think that senior citizens, often living alone, are a market segment that would find the Fresh & Easy concept particularly appealing. Yet we wonder if it couldn’t be made more so. A few ideas:

  1. Many produce items are sold in multi-packs — say six peaches — and smaller households may not want to buy six peaches.
  2. So far the staffing has been high in relation to the customer count so that the self-checkout has not been a problem. If this changes, self-checkout might not be popular with an older clientele.
  3. Generally as people age they become more set in their ways — although our correspondent happens to be the opposite. Still, this is why advertisers of consumer products look to advertise to the young, they want to influence brand preference while it is malleable. We would think that many older shoppers would hesitate to switch to Fresh & Easy brand.
  4. We wonder if extra services could be provided that would appeal to this segment. Publix, for example, in a retiree-rich market, brings the groceries right to the car, with no tipping required.

Of course, pursuing a particular market segment in a small-footprint store can be problematic. For example, if to accommodate small households, Fresh & Easy markets a two-pack of peaches, a large family may feel ridiculous having to buy several packages to meet its needs. Even the point about the variety not being sufficient for the “gourmet shopper” may have broad implications. In a polyglot community such as Los Angeles, what is “gourmet” to an Anglo can be a necessity to a Latino, and what neither would buy may be crucial for an Asian. In fact it breaks down to smaller components than this, the assortment in a Japanese supermarket is completely different from what the Cambodians enjoy. In today’s world, and certainly in LA, there is no majority culture anymore, so a lack of variety means excluding items important to many shoppers.

And, of course, it is not clear if success in only certain market segments will generate enough volume for the stores to succeed.

Still and all, success at retail begins with pleasing the first customer, and this letter clearly points to some passion developing for Fresh & Easy.

Considering how much money has been spent and how many people have worked hard on the project, we are thrilled to see it.

Much appreciation to our correspondent for sharing this letter with us and the whole industry.

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