Grocery Stores


[dahy-nuh-stawr]: A large well-established brand that is unwilling or unable to adapt to changing consumer demands, failed to evolve and is either extinct or well on its way.

In today’s ever-changing retail landscape, it is more important than ever for retailers to give highly focused attention to the changing consumer trends. The metaphoric “e-asteroid” has hit, and conditions are changing fast. However, unlike the dinosaurs, today’s big retailers have the ability to adapt with innovation rather than face extinction.

Unfortunately, the industry is seeing some early casualties. The big department stores of yesterday have been some of the first unfortunate casualties. We are seeing everything from incremental change to radical transformation in an effort to survive. What strategy works best and who will ultimately remain is left to be determined by those willing to take educated risks.

The plight of the department store continues to be a topic of discussion. But, there is another great dinosaur that may face a similar fate – the Grocery Store.

Grocery stores have followed a similar evolution to department store counterparts. Both started out small and grew to gigantic hybrid behemoths. Grocery stores have been somewhat protected until recently, but many are now becoming aware of the need to adapt.

Of late, Aldi was not seen as a serious contender in the grocery market space. Although they have been very successful and have loyal followers, their bulk items and unconventional merchandise selection was seen as a novelty by much of the competition.  They have been consistently growing with little fanfare.

Enter Lidl, a similar model from the European market. All of sudden, this new competitor has created a trend. With smaller stores, low prices, unique product blends and convenient placement of products, a new dynamic has hit the industry. The evolution process has begun and these brands are leading the way.

A CHANGE OF PLAN – The days of hiding the milk in the back corner (to force the customer to traverse the entire store) are over. Today’s customers are too savvy to fall for these tricks anymore. Shoppers today enter a store with a purpose. Creating an easy to navigate store with convenient placement of products is a must – essential for survival.

As a design professional, we must keep up with the latest trends and technologies to remain competitive and provide high quality designs. We urge and encourage our clients to adopt a similar philosophy.

The modern grocery business is at a tipping point. Consumers have more choices than ever with most of it at their fingertips in a digital universe. Wandering through endless aisles of product is no longer acceptable or tolerated. Today’s consumer wants a convenient, pleasant and timely shopping experience.

How can the stores of tomorrow provide that experience? Here are a few areas of improvement and evolution that will need to take place as part of the transformation.

START WITH THE CHECKOUT – The checkout process creates some of the highest anxiety during the customer’s visit. No matter how pleasant the shopping experience and how helpful the staff have been, it can all be erased by a long line and slow checkout process. Store owners continue to struggle with this process. Technology is working to solve this process but until then, provide plenty of competent staff at the checkouts.

ELIMINATE THE ESSENTIALS – Amazon has perfected the “scheduled delivery” process. While not every consumer subscribes, as time goes on, many of our more routine items will be drop shipped weekly or monthly as needed. Toiletries, paper towels, non-perishables, dogfood, etc. will all show up at our doorstep. There will still be need for grocery stores to carry these items but in much more limited quantities.

FOCUS ON FRESH – No matter how fast things can show up on our doorstep, customers will still want to shop for fresh items, such as produce, baked goods, deli items, etc. Today’s generation are relying less on stocked pantries and more on daily shopping – in-store restaurants, pre-packaged dinners or dinner “kits” that can be taken home and prepared. Consider local growers/suppliers of these items.

NAVIGATING THE STORE – Unless you are a regular shopper, navigating a grocery store to get the items you need can be a challenge. Whether it’s a store map that syncs with your shopping list, a smart shopping cart or helpful staff to point you in the right direction, Wayfinding is required. There is nothing more frustrating than endlessly traversing the aisles searching for the items on your list.

SMART STORES – It’s only a matter of time until your refrigerator will be communicating with your pantry to create your shopping list. It may even call your designated store(s) and place your order for pickup or delivery. As items in the store are coded for improved inventory and tracking, those same codes can be coordinated with your home automation to ensure you never run out or buy too much. We are living in an ever-growing connected world. Grocery stores must begin to invest in these technologies.

The grocery store will never be replaced by online ordering, just like the retail store will never be replaced. Customers will always demand and need instant access to items and the social interactions that accompany the shopping experience.

What all retailers and grocers alike must do is continue to evolve, embrace and anticipate the coming changes. The curves are increasing at a steeper rate than ever before in history. Trying to keep up will be impossible. Don’t try to anticipate where the curve of customer behavior will be – influence it today. Do not be afraid that you will “scare” your customers away with technology, they are already expecting the changes. We must evolve or risk extinction.

Don’t let your grocery brand become a “Dino-store.”

Robert Gehr, AIA, NCARB leads the Retail Division of Larson Design Group serving nationally known clients including, among others, Tuesday Morning, CVS, Party City and Dollar Tree/Family Dollar. Contact him at

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