The store of the future is a popular topic for industry seminars and Winsight Grocery Business also took an in-depth look at some speculations earlier this year, but the pandemic has likely altered what the future grocery store will look it. It has sped up some technologies and changed how consumers look at the industry, which will likely be reflected in the physical stores, experts say.
“I think we’re going to see dramatic differences, but it’s going to be a slow evolution,” said David Katz of New York's Katz Architecture. “If you look at the typical supermarket, we all know it’s an antiquated design and it hasn't changed basically since the beginning.”
Katz predicts that the perimeter will be what will draw consumers into the physical store, while the center store aisle products will move to a fulfillment center for delivery.
“If you think about the notion that you go into a typical market and you see aisle after aisle and shelf after shelf of the same product, it seems kind of absurd in a way that the amount of space is taken up,” he said. “I think the idea of a fulfillment center and a delivery system will, in a sense, create its own particular type of shops.”
The sticking point is most grocers have yet to find a way to make delivery profitable, especially for perishables, but as the pandemic has driven up the adoption rate of e-commerce and pushed technology forward at a faster pace, delivery, especially for shelf-stable items, may become a more viable method of doing business.
For this reason, Katz sees a bifurcation coming in the industry, where the center store, shelf-stable items are moved into another area of the store for fulfillment or even another building, but the “market” of the grocery store will become more of an experience. “I think there will be more of an emphasis on transforming into more of a farmers’market experience,” he said.
In addition to the focus on locally sourced aspect of a farmers market, Katz also suggested that grocery stores also will work to simulate the outdoors by adding more natural light. “Just from a design point of view, we’re going to see more cleanliness and hygiene, and we’re going to see more light. So if things are not outdoors, I think there will be a simulation of the outdoors. It’ll be more about a well-being experience,” he said.
The farmers market experience also will likely try to be recreated in areas such as the salad bar where customers will interact directly with staff in order to get their customized items in a hygienic way.
The center store aisles are also likely to disappear because during the pandemic’s social distancing mandates, they were one of the biggest friction points in the store. Due to this new-found aversion to being too close together, Katz envisions a lobby or “decompression zone” at the front of the store where there may be kiosks where customers can order their center store or shelf-stable items. These can either be delivered to them or picked in the back of the store or nearby fulfillment center and reunited with the customer before checkout. Katz also envisions a reworking of the checkout process where stores convert to a frictionless checkout similar to Amazon Go.
Technology also will become much more integrated into the store with the store of the future likely able to recognize each customer’s digital footprint and direct them to the products they need or want whether that is through alerts sent to a device or the information shared with the grocer when the customer is in the store. “The [shopping] experience will be more curated,” Katz said.
“History always repeats itself and if nothing else, we see that there are more pandemics. So I think stores will be more aware of the fact that they have to be prepared for this kind of thing going forward,” Katz said. “The general allocation of space will change. It’ll be more open and more uplifting … and I think that there is a certain peacefulness that the market is going to strive to satisfy.”