Pound shops take up slack from Woolworths

Riddle us this, readers: why has a massive proportion of the premises left empty by Woolworths, a chain which had no discernible target market and sold, well, everything, been filled by discount shops – an industry exclusively devoted to having no discernible target market and selling, well, everything?

According to research by commercial property company CBRE, almost 40% of the 800 former Woolworths stores have been taken over by pound shops or discount retailers, which also cater to the ‘three pans, some JML cleaning products and a Barbie doll’ market.

The difference, of course, is branding. Woolworths’ products were all heavily branded – Barbie dolls, the newest DVDs and electronics from well-known manufacturers, whereas a store such as Poundland or 99p Stores sells similar products, but without the branding: think Bessie dolls, DVDs of forgettable series released circa 1987 (Dan Ackroyd in ‘Dragnet’, anyone?) and electronics made by manufacturers no-one has ever heard of.

This policy doesn’t trouble the stores’ customers – for £1, they wouldn’t expect anything else – but does allow the stores to charge rock-bottom prices; whereas Woolworths charged, for example, £14.99 for a DVD. And when you’re in a horrible shop filled with screaming, sugar-filled kids and their equally screaming, sugar-filled mothers, you really don’t want to stick around to browse if it’s going to cost you more than £15.

The moral here? Find your target market’s common denominator – in this case, the target market is, well, everyone, and everyone wants low, low prices – and manage their expectations. No one walks into a pound shop expecting Barbie dolls or the latest Harry Potter DVD, but they do expect low prices. At Woolworths, everyone expected the best products at the lowest prices – which is precisely where it fell down.

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