Supermarkets lack white goods culture

George Pitcher is right to ask the obvious question (MW February 26): when are supermarkets going to move into the white goods trade? But he fails to note more critical reasons why they might hold back.

Beyond textbook hurdles of product distribution and stock management costs, there is the bigger barrier in the difference in consumer mindset.

While consumers buy packaged goods, they need to be sold white good products because the investment cost and sheer range of these products is far greater. Which is where supermarkets will fall down – at least, for the moment – because they lack the store culture and physical architecture to provide knowledgeable staff to answer intelligent enquiries and guide consumers through the lengthier purchasing path.

Yet staffing is an issue that also beleaguers specialist stores like Currys and Dixons, particularly in the white goods sector which is less well serviced than the IT area.

In IT, manufacturers are increasingly employing specialist and dedicated merchandisers not only to ensure product positioning and availability, but to train staff, launch new products, provide product updates, run in-store demonstrations and gather valuable consumer and store feedback.

A recent survey of PC World outlets asked retailers what additional support they would like manufacturers to provide for them in-store. The top three responses were specialist support (29 per cent), demonstrations on a regular basis (18 per cent) and product training (17 per cent). The same could be said for the white goods sector.

It is here supermarkets could find the competitive edge they have located so well in the financial sector, as Pitcher points out.

By finding what consumers are missing in the traditional retail sector – which, again, is service – and overcoming the traditional barriers to really provide it.

Richard Thompson

Chairman

EMS

Wiltshire

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