Belfast Telegraph

Will we be made up at eye-catching move?

By Margaret Canning

Two contrasting stories from the world of grocery yesterday are a reminder of the need to keep your customers satisfied. Of all retailers, Tesco has felt the pinch most from changing customer tastes and habits. We want to spread our weekly shop around a few businesses now.

Used to being top of the pile – accounting for £1 out of very £8 spent in Britain – its falling profits mean it has had to answer to angry shareholders, and its chief executive Philip Clarke is under constant fire.

Right here in Northern Ireland we are seeing the results of Tesco's plans to hold on to shoppers. For some time the company has been opening small Tesco Express stores, with one planned for Belfast's Royal Avenue to capitalise on a student influx when the University of Ulster sets up its new home in the area.

It's also tackling its existing store estate – particularly the Knocknagoney Tesco Extra between Holywood and Belfast. It opened to a fanfare in 1999 but now feels vast and slightly forlorn.

But to make it a more inviting place, and in move which could eat into Boots' market share, it has extended its health and beauty department, renaming it Beautyworld, had has employed a small army of beauty consultants.

Prices will be competitive –probably worryingly competitive for many small beauty salons – with eyebrow, upper and lower lip threading at £5, individually applied false eyelashes £10, eyebrow or eyelash tinting £5 and teeth whitening at £50.

Tesco tested out the popularity of beauty treatments among shoppers in London and Manchester in 2011 – and time will tell if it's enough to win people back to Knocknagoney. In Britain, Tesco has tried to pull in more punters with branches of casual restaurant chain Giraffe, which it now owns, and upmarket coffee shop chain Harris + Hoole. It's hopefully not a reflection on our raw Northern Ireland beauty that we are being being enticed with beauty treatments instead.

Perhaps our shoppers are deemed to have their fill of cake, coffee and casual dining already.

Marks & Spencer's has also been under fire – not for its grocery offering but its clothing, with its womenswear in particularly garnering unfavourable comparisons with competitors like Next and Zara.

Companies often select unlikely excuses for poor performance, and M&S chief Marc Bolland has pointed to teething problems with its website to explain falling sales. But the success of its food offering goes on, reflected in its decision to move its Lisburn Road Simply Food store to bigger premises.

There won't be any teeth whitening services, however.

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