Why is Waitrose investing in 'welcome desks'?

Mark Price

Do you of the supermarket as a place to rush around with a trolley, a list, and a fast-dwindling supply of patience? Then you're stuck in the 20th Century. Now they're a 'hub' where you can collect the food you have already bought online: without the fuss of a shopping trip or the expense of delivery.

And Waitrose is so convinced that this is the future of shopping that it is changing its stores - and introducing hotel-style concierge desks.
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'Hubs'

The chain is introducing the kinds of welcome desks you normally see in hotels. It will have them in 100 stores this year, and across the company next year.

People can collect their shopping there in relative calm. Alternatively they can place online orders on tablets kept at the desks (with or without help from staff), or have things like flowers and gifts wrapped by a helpful member of staff (flowers will be free and gifts will be charged for). Some will also offer a dry cleaning service if a trial proves popular.

It's a sign of just how significant online ordering is becoming for the business. As it announced the change, the store said that increasingly shops aren't just supermarkets but 'hubs for ordering and collection'.

Mark Price, Managing Director, Waitrose (pictured), said in a statement: "The new welcome desks will allow us to respond to changing shopping habits as our supermarkets are increasingly used as a destination to collect online orders. By offering these new branch hubs, we will enhance the customer experience even further by providing greater convenience and even more personalised services."

Click and collect

'Click and collect' has become big business for Waitrose, which has even introduced a drive-through collection point in five stores - where you can do the weekly shop without leaving the car. It is also planning to introduce temperature-controlled self-service lockers for online customers at the end of the year.

It's not just Waitrose which is expanding its 'click and collect' services, Sainsbury's and Tesco have also been heavily investing in it. At sister store, John Lewis, some 8% of all shopping is done through 'click and collect'. In the week before Christmas 5% of all Tesco shopping was bought through the service. In Sainsbury's more than half of all general merchandise it sells is bought online and picked up from the store.

It avoids the hassle of filling the trolley, and the inconvenience of waiting in for a driver and paying for delivery, and is proving a hit with consumers. It's no wondered that the brands are investing.

Ocado

Waitrose has an added incentive to be at the forefront of this development. It has had a delivery arrangement with Ocado since 2000, but now Ocado has signed a partnership deal with Wm Morrison, which Price was keen to examine.

Given that Waitrose has a break clause in its Ocado contract, which means it can end it in 2017, it could encourage Waitrose to consider running its own deliveries.

Building up a service to rival companies that have been doing it for decades is going to be a challenge. However, the innovation it has shown with collection services could be a good sign that it is taking advantage of being a late-starter.

But what do you think? Has the way we shopped really changed? Or do you find yourself racing round with a trolley every week regardless of modern technology? Let us know in the comments.

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Seven of the craziest supermarket glitches
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Why is Waitrose investing in 'welcome desks'?

One of the most popular glitches, was a wine deal at Tesco back in November 2012, where a series of offers clashed, leaving a bottle of £9.99 wine selling for £1.50.

The 'three wines for £10' deal apparently clashed with a '25% off when you buy six or more bottles' deal. The 25% was accidentally taken off the original price rather than the reduced one, leaving the wine at rock bottom prices. Deal-hunters cleared the shelves around the country.

Perhaps the most popular glitch from Tesco came in June 2011, when instead of taking £4 off the cost of a £20 case of beer, the supermarket accidentally started selling the cases for £4. The ensuring rush was nicknamed the 'beer stampede'.

Sadly not every supermarket pricing glitch comes with such a happy ending for consumers. In March last year the bargain-hunters thought their luck was in, when Tesco accidentally priced the new iPad at just £44.99 instead of around £650. Sadly it spotted the mistake before shipping the goods. The small print on its website meant it could refuse to sell at this price, and refund their customers instead.

In September 2012, Asda was responsible for one of the most expensive glitches. The Asda Price Guarantee offered vouchers to customers who could have got their shopping cheaper elsewhere.

However, when certain trigger products were in the basket, the supermarket massively under-priced the shopping at other supermarkets, and offered huge vouchers to shoppers. In many instances the vouchers came to roughly the same as the cost of the shopping.

In April, a mistake on their website resulted in Tesco selling 8 packs of Bulmers cider 568ml bottles for £5 - rather than a six pack for £8.

Deal-hunters snapped up the deal online, and had varying degrees of success. Some had their order delivered in full, others had six delivered for £5 - and were able to negotiate their way to another two, while others were offered six for £5 or their money back.

October last year saw one of the most famous glitches, when Tesco Terry's Chocolate Oranges were subject to two deals at the same time, and the price dropped from £2.75 to 29p. There were plenty of people getting chocolate oranges last Christmas.

A buy-one-get-one-free deal went awry at Tesco in March. People putting four tubs of I can't Believe It's Not Butter or Oykos yogurt packs into the trolley were only being charged for one.

Soon the online deal-hunting community was in action, with one person bagging 50 tubs of butter and 22 pots of yogurt for £8.79 - a saving of £133.89.

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