Supermarkets are becoming unrecognisable – and that’s a good thing

Walk into the major supermarket that anchors your local shopping centre today and it’s most likely a vastly changed environment than it was ten years ago. And the trends in supermarket refurbishment that are currently re-shaping the way we view, and interact with, the major grocery chains will ensure the environment ten years from now is just as different.

We’re all familiar with the recent supermarket format changes. Self-service checkouts. A more prominent fresh fruit and vegetables offer. Now, the phasing out of plastic bags.

Supermarkets have been very effective in responding to changing consumer trends. Consumers are increasingly time-poor; self-service speeds up transactions. They have an increased preference for healthier products; you’re greeted with fresh produce before anything else. Likewise, a greater emphasis on environmental conscience has doomed the humble plastic bag.

But supermarkets can’t sit still. The majors have had to reinvigorate their offer in recent times in response to the rise of more boutique offers like Harris Farm Markets and relatively new entrants  disrupting the norm, like Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon.

And they’re doing it.

Bread, sushi, coffee

Ten years ago, it’s unlikely you would have been doing your supermarket shopping and been able to smell fresh bread being baked. You couldn’t sample and purchase freshly made sushi in-store, much less have a coffee cup holder on your shopping trolley.

Today, sophisticated delicatessens, artisan cheese stations and fresh seafood on ice are being rolled out in supermarkets around the country.

The scale and efficiency of the rollouts undertaken by the major supermarket retailers is truly impressive. Obviously, any program must be planned down to a granular level of detail across the many different operational sites.

A store re-purposing plan will likely be accompanied by promotional campaigns and advertising support, each meticulously planned and requiring certainty of timing. Of course, the need to minimise disruption to customers and staff in a safe environment is always crucial.

The major chains have the natural advantage of being strong, established brands with a presence in a huge number of communities nationally. So, when they commit to a new format, they have the capacity to roll it out in large tranches, in programs involving hundreds of stores in a short amount of  time.

Supermarkets are becoming exceedingly efficient at executing large scale re-purposings and they will need to continue to draw on this capability in the future.

Experience, entertainment, community

There’s no shortage of research houses, global think-tanks and expert analysts opining on the future of retail. The challenge for Australian supermarkets will be to recognise and be able to constantly adapt to what’s happening, and what’s around the corner.

For instance, as more consumers are influenced by peer reviews, will supermarkets be able to demonstrate the flexibility to respond quickly?

There is a recognised trend toward shopping centres being more experience driven, offering more entertainment options and incorporating community uses. Retail stores themselves are expected to evolve into display spaces and showrooms – experience destinations instead of primarily transactional environments.

How can supermarkets participate in this movement and ensure they keep up with this rapid pace of change?

Ten years from now, it’s fair to assume your local supermarket will be largely unrecognisable to today’s format. History suggests they will be able to adapt.

Rob Doust is the managing director of Mainbrace Constructions.

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