Why is Waitrose investing in 'welcome desks'?

Updated: 

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.


'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.

Seven of the craziest supermarket glitches

Seven of the craziest supermarket glitches

More stories

SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT