Give me self-service (almost) every time

EDITOR'S BLOG: The growing trend for self-service may be a mixed blessing, but I'd rather wait in for Ocado a dozen times than venture into a branch of Sainsbury's, Tesco or Asda.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 30 Jul 2015

I live in terror of each set of Ocado results. Not that I’m a shareholder but my family has been a customer for years and years. If it were no longer there I’d feel the loss. As I’ve said before Ocado delivery staff are the only ones I’ve ever come across who have actually turned down a tip. Their own label fishcakes are lousy, though.

Today’s numbers appear to be just about OK (EBITDA up slightly to £38.4m on sales of £507.7m) but it seems obvious that Ocado CEO Tim Steiner believes salvation lies in selling his clever IP to other retailers, as he has to Morrisons, rather than in  operating the company itself. Which is fair enough, I suppose, Ocado is a bit like ARM - a chip factory with a difference.  

We’ve got a funny and informative feature about self-service in the magazine this month. I like many aspects of self-service. I love researching before I buy online, rarely trust salespeople and download boarding passes to an iPhone with a song in my heart. And way before it’s time for boarding I'd always far rather choose business flights myself after scouring the schedules and options.  (And often finding the cheapest ticket in the process.)  

Years ago I had a PA but now I quite happily arrange all my own meetings. Easier to avoid the ones you want nothing to do with that way. My family will tell you this is down to my controlling nature. And it’s true - If you want something done properly then doing it yourself is often the best way. Then you only have yourself to blame when things get screwed up.

There are limits, though. Assembling IKEA furniture drives me nuts - i bear stigmata-like scars in both palms from the screwing together of far too many Benny and Bjorn's.  And life is too short not only to stuff a mushroom but also to fix a rear wheel puncture on a Brompton bike. However, the Iranian ex-Olympic cyclist  who tried to fix my flat last week buggered it up first time.  I want to be in control when I want to be in control not get sauna-sweaty and covered in oil.

When it comes to supermarkets this preference for doing it myself is very strong. Not only do I never wish to be anywhere near a bagging area with my unexpected items, I’d happily never set foot in a Sainsbury’s or Tescos again. I even find Waitrose trying.  This goes beyond the self-service issue and into the zone of impatience and irritability.

For reasons too complex to go into I found myself in an Asda last Saturday afternoon.  [Oh god, no. How utterly  awful for you. Dep Ed] Rather than be tempted by the three bags of compost for a tenner - I’m developing a herb garden to avoid buying those £1.49 pouches that get flown all the way in from Tel Aviv - I went for a couple of bottles of red. A Fleurie from their ‘Extra Special’ selection  and something called  ‘France Saint-Chinian - Discover this captivating red wine from the foothills of the Massif Central.’ Well I discovered that both were unspeakable. (And if I were Sainsbury’s lawyer I’d be having a word with Walmart about the branding on the Asda Extra Special range which looks, in its use of the imperial purple, as if it might just be passing off  Sainsbury's Taste The Difference.)

With wine you live and you learn. I don’t faint any more if I break the £12 barrier once in a while. And yet you always buy the second cheapest bottle on the restaurant wine list. Every now and again Ocado bung in a free bottle of wine to keep customer's spirits up. That’s normally pretty awful, too. 

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