Lights, Camera…. Potatoes


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Mimi Hayton poses the question: ‘What should supermarkets be doing to their design to enhance the shopping experience?’

The fresh food zone of my local Woolworths has recently been re-freshed as part of their ongoing campaign to promote themselves as the number one purveyor of freshness. Instead of no-frills plastic shelving, beans and bok choy are now proffered in rustic ‘terracotta’ pots; oranges and onions on timber display benches. It’s Woolies in ‘Farmer’s Market Flavour’ – homogenised, pasteurised and wrapped in plastic (and coming to a store near you!). A valiant attempt to update the fresh food lure, which has long been front and centre of almost all supermarkets, and cash in on rising trends like the paddock to plate movement, and the growing market for real ‘markets’. Unfortunately, much of the picturesque charm is lost in the sterile glow of the surrounding standard fluorescent lighting.

In the ongoing battle to boost their market share of fresh food, Woolworths Director of Supermarkets Tjeerd Jegen describes this latest strategy as integrating ‘the theatre elements’, although it feels more like dressing up what is already the most exciting part of the supermarket. Trendy additions like sushi counters are all well and good, but frankly I feel efforts would be better focussed in the less lively areas – tinned vegetables, for example. After all, nature’s bounty hardly needs any more help selling itself, particularly when the produce is so shiny you can see it from the carpark. I hope that the renovations will eventually extend to the grocery aisles which, like so many customer experiences in the 21st century, are starting to feel a bit stagnant.

The promotions razzle-dazzle, end-cap bulk-buy ‘value’ deals, and other age-old marketing ploys used to maximise consumer spending now look more tired than ever when viewed from the provincial market in the aisle next door. Sales figures may be up, but the fresh food renovations bely any real improvement to the fundamental customer experience of supermarket shopping, which to my mind is where the real opportunity for innovation lies, and, of course, the associated sales growth that Woolworths is seeking. Given the lack of real change to the landscape of the supermarket since it was formulated in the 1930s, and the increasingly sophisticated shopping experiences available online, jaded 21st century grocery shoppers are ripe for the picking.

Instead of a paying lip service to ‘local flavour’ with marketese and superficial aesthetic treatments, Australian supermarkets could take some more assertives steps in the direction of the market inspired movement, the posterchild for which is clearly über-successful Whole Foods Market in the USA. Whole Foods has cleverly distilled their all-natural, wholesome philosophy and injected it into everything in their stores, without losing each location’s unique community ‘presence’; even going so far as to employ a different artist for each store to paint the signage. Among other noble tenets their mission states the objective “to create store environments that are inviting and fun, and reflect the communities they serve”. Making grocery shopping fun – now that would be refreshing.

Woolworths still needs to cater to the wider Australian public – not just the organic vegetable eating kind – and therefore transforming into a giant Macro Wholefoods is not the solution. However the idea of having a greater community presence in each store, tailored to its local area, seems reasonably within reach. It is already attempted, after all, though somewhat narrowly, in terms of the of the product selection of specific locations i.e. large Kosher foods selection in stores located in areas with high Jewish populations, and of course Mexican and Asian food sections are now commonplace across all supermarkets. To take this to the next level would require a program of customer focussed research, to stimulate ideas for community-specific store variations, together with a degree of autonomy in store management, and mining data from loyalty clubs, which could then influence everything from the weekly catalogue promotions to the design of the store itself. The UK’s Marks and Spencer invited just such a consultation with their customers and staff as part of their 2004 recovery plan, which successfully revitalised a customer experience not unlike that of Australian supermarkets – “a bit dismal and a bit bland” – and resulted in landmark accredited staff training and customer feedback programs.

Australian consumers historically have had a habit of putting up with whatever we are given, however our expectations are changing and seeking to match the new and ever-increasing heights of service satisfaction found in other industries. With discount supermarkets like Aldi outselling their competitors internationally, and the Australian debut of US bulk-buy giant Costco, perhaps our conservative chainstores looking at their market share should instead be looking to usher in a new, potentially even more lucrative, shopping experience, rather than the bland, cookie cutter one customers are currently served across every location. It’s time for a truly ‘fresh’ approach to groceries.

Supermarket fashion stakes: The award for the best dressed goes to…the fresh food zone.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mimi Hayton
Mimi Hayton is an experienced design consultant at the Customer Experience Company in Sydney, Australia. ( Mimi has a focus on fusing structured design thinking with business consulting skills to create a cross-disciplinary design approach. Her key skills lie in applying the design process to complex problems and articulating the solution through visual or written communications.


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