GENERAL APPEARANCE: Portswood is just north of Southampton city centre and the Tesco Express is in a densely populated area. The site is clearly identified by an Esso/Tesco Express pole.

FORECOURT: The forecourt is quite large, with the entrance and exit specifically marked. Access to the three islands of pumps is good. The price of fuels was 1ppl less than the local competition and there was a steady flow of vehicles refuelling.

The only forecourt services offered are air and water (the water pipe had a small leak that, due to the extremely cold weather, was a potential ice hazard). The nine designated parking spaces were well used by shop-only drivers.

Two ATMs are the only shop-front services on offer.

SHOP: The immediate impression is that the store is packed full of products, a vast number of which are on offer. As expected this is a true destination convenience store with offers for both the motorist and the significant neighbourhood residential population.

Store customers seemed to cross most categories, but a significant number appeared to be students. A comprehensive range of convenience categories are available.

The shop is equipped with a large number of refrigerated cabinets with glass doors perhaps good for low-running costs but a little restrictive to shoppers. Right in front of the entrance, the displays included a standard range of sandwiches and savoury snacks; a Costa hot drinks unit; and other food and snacks for now. Bake-off bread and pastries were available but not a true hot food-to-go offering.

Beers and wines were limited to a tight range with many offered from cool cabinets. News and magazines were rather untidy. The top of this section was taken up by a vast display of Easter eggs.

A wide range of grocery products occupied the centre aisles of the store. Special display merchandising strips were fairly extensively used but curiously tubes of Bonjela were in the grocery section and trial packs of Kellogg’s Krave in the baby section! Surely more Bonjela would be sold if it was displayed in the right section?

Produce, in the main, looked good with a wide selection available. Worryingly, on the top shelf of an ambient unit were three packs of fresh fillet steaks. When advised, an assistant put them in the meat chiller I do hope they were still fresh!

Special displays St Valentine’s Day, Easter, £1 offers, flowers, gritting salt, packs of beer abounded around the store which, together with special offer pricing, were all attempting to persuade shoppers that they could save money.

However, a real negative was the state of the shop. There was a fair amount of litter around, empty display trays, product abandoned in the wrong place and a number of out-of-stocks.

The customer toilet was in good order. The Tesco and Community notice boards were under-utilised.

The sales assistant at the till dealing with my transaction was great. She was friendly, had good eye contact and, without asking, gave me two receipts one for my records and the other attached to a Esso Movie Ticket voucher

PROGNOSIS: Recently Tesco has been the subject of some poor publicity. It seems that The Big Price Drop has not worked as expected and Tesco admits that the entire ’shopping experience’ has not been up to scratch. The company has issued a profit warning its first for ages and its market share has just slipped below 30%

DIAGNOSIS: Tesco’s investment in and development of its convenience store Express estate (over 1,000 stores) has been considerable. It will probably be easier for Tesco to increase customer satisfaction in these stores than its superstores.

PRESCRIPTION: Consumer research consistently indicates that shoppers rank product availability and friendly staff highly.

Tesco Express at Portswood needs to focus on eliminating out-of-stocks and maintaining high staff morale.

The application of some basic retail standards and customer understanding would eliminate all those empty cartons lying around and ensure product was displayed in the appropriate location.

This site has further potential that Tesco needs to exploit, for example, the local student population for a start.