The future of the food shopping retail experience

Photo by Fahmi Fakhrudin on Unsplash

Following the horse meat scandal and turbulent times on the High Street, a recent feature by Retail Week magazine asked industry experts from Tesco, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury’s to discuss how retail interior design is changing in the food retail industry and how it is likely to develop in the future.

Food retail is a competitive and crowded environment where retailers constantly strive to improve their in-store customer experience and retail interior design to attract shoppers who are potentially more fickle with regard to their brand loyalty in comparison to other shopping – for example fashion retail. Whatever happens with the economy, people will always need food and in a rapidly-changing retail environment, grocers constantly seek new ways to present their wares in order to encourage sales and repeat trade.

According to Retail Week, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and M&S each own their own slice of the marketplace, targeted at a particular type of shopper, but there is still fierce competition -akin to a political campaign – with each retailer constantly refining and improving their retail interior and developing their brand in order to attract new trade. Each of these retailers has their own take on how to address the challenges confronting them and what is happening in their particular sector. They are responding in different ways to increased demands for online grocery shopping, sales motivated by the time of day or geographical location of the store, an increase in the frequency of shopping trips for smaller quantities (little and often, rather than one big shop)and subsequent demand for increased freshness and convenience.

Store environments now include greater transparency – featuring more ‘theatre’ areas where shoppers can see food being freshly prepared – with greater communication with staff and increased online and interactive activity.

Nayna McIntosh, Director of Store Environment and Product Presentation at Marks and Spencer describes how they have approached the new trends in grocery retail within the M&S brand:

“One of the things that we have been looking at for the last 18 months to two years is the customer experience, particularly in light of the moves we’ve been making with in-store technology and our online shops. The question we have been asking, not just for our food offer, is how can we join the two worlds of online and shop-based retailing together?

“I think we’ve probably put more theatre into our food retailing business than our clothing over the last couple of years. We’ve done this with the deli bars that, because they have products that aren’t found in the rest of the food department, are a complete destination. Then we’ve added props, so there are blackboards, maps to show where things come from and pasta machines that allow the product to be made as the shopper watches, for example. It’s about making things more interesting.

“Our ‘event zones’ are found at the entrance to our food departments, and even in our Simply Food stores they have been rolled out. They are displays that treat food in almost the same way that you might fashion. It’s dead easy to create a display using, say, biscuits and chocolates, but you have to do more than that – even if it’s about taking wicker baskets and playing with them to generate interest.”

Damian Culkin, Head of Store Design at Sainsbury’s describes how they have diversified into other areas – with instore coffee shops and clothing and other merchandising sales:

“The picture has dramatically changed in the last 10 years. Now we operate on a format basis and when we try something like Fresh Kitchen [a food-to-go format that was tried out in 2011 but later shut] we try to adopt what works quickly and if it doesn’t, we close it very fast indeed.

“We therefore always ask, what can Sainsbury’s bring that will be different? What will be credible, allowing for the heritage of the brand? In King’s Lynn, which we opened last year, we feel we’ve got things right. It’s about online and offline and how to get the two worlds to mix.”

Simon Thredkell, Design and Formats Director at Tesco describes how they have focussed on becoming ‘locally relevant’ and convenient with an increase in smaller, locally convenient ‘Metro’ stores and items specific to geographical location and ‘time of day purchases’:

“In Kensington, which is a very affluent area of London, we’ve gone for time-of-day merchandising and also catered for what is a very diverse ethnic mix. What I’m describing is more surgical and specific design thinking that targets local communities.

“We’re also asking how do you create a more connected store, where ‘click and connect’ and ‘endless aisles’ [screens located on gondolas at the ends of aisles] allow shoppers to browse extended ranges.

“And, of course, we’re looking at our existing stores too. How can you make an existing store a more relevant destination that will deliver a great in-store experience?

“Finally, we’re looking at how we can reinvigorate the conversation we have with our customers, through graphics and a clearer and more friendly tone of voice. We are keeping it local and relevant and at the same time making sure that we don’t miss out on ‘connectivity’.”