Phil Lee, business director of Torex P&C, told visitors to last week's Food and Drink Expo, held at Birmingham's NEC, that Tesco is 'dehumanising' retail with its move towards self-scan checkouts. "It's not a customer experience," he said.
Tesco's IT budget was "so far apart" from independent retailers' that small stores should not attempt to match its approach, Lee said.
He added: "Go for human interaction customers don't want an operator staring at buttons, they want a personable experience. Independents can offer this and it's also an opportunity to upsell, which the larger retailers don't have."
Lee was speaking at a seminar entitled Taking on Tesco: Unlocking the Secrets of Independent Retail Success, in which Bedfordshire retailer Kishor Patel said small stores could learn from the retail giant. "They carry a tight range, use technology well and run very efficiently," he said. "However, we don't script our staff; we know our customers by name, and even though we lack Tesco's resources we have the flexibility to stay one step ahead."
However, Kishor warned that ignoring technological advances could be disastrous. "Tesco is trialling a self-scan only store near one of my shops and although older customers are wary, the young kids enjoy it," he said. "It's not so long ago that getting money out of a wall was considered with suspicion."