How the parking debate has come to hit a prominent discounter!

As many authors have stated including Benjamin Franklin there are only two certainties in life – ‘death and taxes’. Applied to retail then this would have to be business rates and parking charges. Any reader of debate around the health or otherwise of our town centres will have these two issues crop up as frequently as our obsession to talk about the weather.

News over the last year has been focussed on the rise of the food discounters, especially Aldi and Lidl, who are growing their market share not only through increased store estates (7% and 1% respectively with over 1,145 stores between them) but also through genuine customer satisfaction in their offer and value. This ‘love’ is across all socioeconomic groups and whether it is the excitement of the cooked Lobster, Pimms equivalent, soft drinks, baked beans, pizzas, frankfurters or sauerkraut then there is no doubt that a visit to these stores provides a different shopping experience to what must of us have experienced to date. Whether this is adhoc or weekly varies and how long it will last who knows as the big four supermarkets have finally woken up to what is their biggest strategic threat in a decade.

I was therefore surprised to learn that one of the discounters, namely Aldi, seems to have become embroiled in one of the hottest consumer issues relating to shopping that I alluded to earlier and that is parking charges. Now parking charges are not something one generally associates with supermarkets and if you do then normally it is 20p and you get it back when you pay for your shop at the check out. Now it appears, thanks to their Facebook page, that Aldi have stirred up a massive hornets nest by not only introducing parking charges (no doubt as a result of their growing popularity and expansion to in or edge of town) but by appearing to have done it by stealth (complaints that charging policies are not clearly advertised and vary by store) but worst of all by employing a parking company (Parking Eye) who are clearly very efficient at enforcing charges the minute you go over time if indeed you knew there was a time. The penalties quoted are not insignificant and can be as high as £70 which would get you a lot of lobster, ‘Pimms’, hotdogs etc and I would think that the average basket value was c.£50 at a guess. As such why I write about this as it is a big issue both in terms of food retailing and parking charges, whether we will see this with other discounters such as Lidl who have over 600 stores and what damage it will do to a consumer who has shown a great love for what they have been up to at the expense of the Big Four. Councils have been bashed time and time again by parking enforcement policies and therefore to see this occur in the car parks of a discounter amazes me and perhaps shows that success can bring with it new issues that the discounters have not yet had to experience.  In light of social media and how bad news travels like wildfire then if I was CEO at Aldi then I would want to put this one out very quickly as customer loyalty in the 21st Century can be very short lived as many retailers will testify. I will watch with interest what happens.

Photo credit: Pro Shield Safety Signs

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