Sainsburys in Cambridge

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The large Sainsbury's on Coldham's Lane was built in the early 1980s and was the first out-of-town Sainsbury's. It now suffers from its experimental nature, e.g. with narrow aisles. It went all-night on Fridays in mid-1997, the first permanent 24-hour supermarket in the area, and presumably a response to the Fulbourn Tesco experimenting with 24-hour opening.

The city centre one in Sidney St., built in 1972, now has a monopoly - it's the only true supermarket in central Cambridge. (The next closest match in Central Cambridge was the much smaller Burleigh St. Co-Op and there's also Iceland on Fitzroy St.)

This monopoly was a worrying state of affairs, especially since they kept hoping for permission for a second giant out-of-town store either in Trumpington or King's Hedges. Would the central store survive?

Sainsbury's said "yes" of course - and that both current stores are amongst the busiest they have (CEN 5-Mar-1996; David Sainsbury in Cam magazine Michaelmas 1997). This would leave residents the choice of driving a car to the outskirts or using expensive local convenience stores and/or the surburban Co-Ops. Interestingly, Sainsbury sold off its 67,000 sq.ft. planned site in Haverhill in 1998 even though it had planning permission.

[New front] There was a big revamp of the Sidney St. store around September 1996, in which the layout was completely changed and made more cramped. For instance the checkouts were moved from the front to the left-hand side (part of a corporate design plan - identical to the similarly-sized Chelmsford centre store). There are several instances of goods now being awkward to get at, being behind pillars.

In 1998 Sainsbury at last gained control of the two shop units at the front of the store and in September widened its frontage from one to three units, enlarging the 1972 store. Back then, planners restricted its frontage as they thought a wide one would spoil the area. The only major change in 1998 was the addition of a small delicatessen.

Given the importance to Sainsbury's of its Reward card scheme, for customer loyalty plus providing purchasing profile info, it's strange that they keep it secret as to how to get one. One would expect posters and application leaflet holders all over. (The secret is to ask a checkout clerk for a leaflet, which comes with a ready-to-use card.)


However the choice available has been going downhill since the big revamp around September 1996. Some examples of the continuing reduction in choice:

Tesco - by way of comparison

Fortunately (for the sake of competition) Tesco is returning to central Cambridge with the gasworks site. Many people commented that it would have been better for one of the missing retailers (e.g. Safeway, Asda) to be moving in, to increase choice in a more effective way - and then strong rumours appeared that Asda was moving into the Beehive Centre (only now it'll be Wal-Mart presumably).

Tesco Direct

In May 1999 Tesco launched Internet shopping for some parts of Cambridge, supplied by the Fulbourn store.

When e-mailed about how one acquired a Tesco Clubcard when one has no physical access to a Tesco store, they replied within an hour or so to say "one's in the post".

The delivery service was at a basic level: 2-day delay, limited delivery slots, limited delivery area. The ordering service was painfully slow over the Internet, so they offered a download or a CD-ROM of the ordering application, allowing one to make up an order offline. Unfortunately this was only available for Windows - they said a Macintosh version would appear sometime.

As of May 2000 the Web site has speeded up (though it's still awkward to use) but one can't find out about delivery options until the final stage of making an order. Many people need to know the options first as a critical decision factor. The Mac CD never appeared.