Do low prices really have to mean poor store design?

What in-store experience can we hope for at the lower end of the price spectrum and do we have any right to expect it?

We may all be trading down at the moment – or at least that's what the figures from Aldi, Lidl, et al would seem to indicate – but does that mean we should leave our expectations about what a store should look like at the door?

It's not so long since the received wisdom was that those venturing into hard discount stores could more or less like it or lump it, because the prices were such that there was little room for such fripperies as design, layout and visual merchandising.

In truth, nothing much has changed with the onset of the credit crunch and discount food retailing environments remain largely devoid of inspiration.

But here's a thing. If the whole of the UK really does cross the portals of these undeniably cheap merchants, then the retailers involved may have to raise their game just a little.

With Tesco reminding us at the entrances to its branches that it is the UK's largest discounter, it may not be that long before the siren call of the neighbourhood discounters becomes a little less sweet when faced with the might of some of the bigger players.

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and even Morrisons have all spent large amounts on honing their interiors and they all pass the recognition test where if you took the name off the door, you'd still be able to work out which store you were in.

Not so with Aldi and Lidl, where identities are still sufficiently indistinct for shoppers to understand little more than that they are in a place that sells cheap stuff.

If the food inflation that has been feeding the exodus to the discounters begins to ease, as people who should know are forecasting it will, it seems reasonable to assume that the tide may begin to turn as shoppers head back towards greater choice and better environments.

The spiritual home of hard discounting is Germany, where there is a general acceptance that low price means low design input. For shoppers, that link is not firmly established in this country and there is every reason to suppose that it won't become embedded. If food inflation falls, as things stand, it's back to Sainsbury's, Tesco, et al.

All of which can only be a good thing for shoppers. We may be on the verge of seeing the original German hard discounters deciding that it's time to do something a little different from the way things are done back home.

Retail Week