Monthly Archives: August 2019

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Ten—Amenities

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By Andrew McQuilkin

Customer amenities are the memorable extra steps that a retailer takes to understand and deliver on the needs of each guest. If done right, they bring true moments of surprise and delight.


Grocery: It’s long been as basic as baggers offering to load groceries into a shopper’s car. Grocers have also successfully added other amenities over the years, including sampling stations, wine tastings, cafés and seating. In-store technologies such as ordering kiosks in the deli have also reduced wait times.

Department stores: Mirrors on every column and tester bottles in cosmetics are a given in most department stores. Restaurants and cafés have started to make their way back into the stores as well. The key amenity for all guests is a clean and well-lit fitting room that provides a sense of security and an organized wall system to compare clothing options.

Advice: With grocery stores adding more apparel, there’s a role for a better fitting room experience. And as beauty products become more standard, adding testers and mirrors will let shoppers know they’re making the right choices.

Aiming to outwit new competitors, the largest grocery chains are already investing in technological innovations like curbside pickup, automatic checkout, and delivery services to provide better service to customers and simplify the shopping experience. But as they evolve with this focus on technology, they should not overlook the many easy and relatively low-cost physical tweaks that can be made in stores to incorporate the best of the long successful run once enjoyed by department stores.

This is the Tenth and final Lesson of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” To view all ten lessons in their entirety, check out our full white paper HERE.

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Nine—Services

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By Andrew McQuilkin

While physical stores can no longer compete with online retail for sheer product selection, the face-to-face conversations with experts and the services they provide are the greatest differentiator for brick-and-mortar retail. Whether the tailor or butcher, the personal connection builds a level of trust. As grocers adopt more of the traditional department store categories, what services will migrate over as well?


Grocery: Many grocers began as the local butcher or neighborhood produce wagon, embracing the importance of community and family. Today, each grocer must find a balance between services and the commodities in the center of the store. Innovations in recent years have included adding clinics, catering, delivery, and curbside pick-up.

Department stores: Historically, department stores differentiated themselves by their specialty services and category expertise. Although they have ceded some of this space to competitors, they still offer beauty consultants, tailors, and personal shoppers and are successfully adopting in-store pick-up and recommitting to cross-training sales staff.

Advice: As grocers continue to expand their beauty and personal care sections, adding consulting services may be the next logical step. For food, what about party planning in addition to the already popular catering services? Understanding customer needs and what the competition is doing will greatly influence what services to add and their impact on grocers’ business models.

This is Lesson Nine of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” Make sure to check out Lessons One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, and Eight if you haven’t already.

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Eight—Check-Outs

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By Andrew McQuilkin

The last major touchpoint for the guest experience is at check-out, where a problem-free, positive cashier experience can reinforce the brand for a consumer.


Grocery: It’s taken more than 30 years for just one-third of grocery shoppers to adopt self-checkout kiosks. Now technology is being tested for automatic checkout that would eliminate the need for long, regimented lines of registers and cashiers.

Department stores: More than 30 years ago, stores seeking staffing efficiencies began phasing out multiple departmental registers in favor of centralized wrap stations, but that also reduced the perception of individual service and category expertise.

Advice: Maintain a variety of ways to check guests out without reducing the perception of service, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution for how individuals want to check out. Certainly, younger shoppers are more likely to adopt new technology, but it’s important to maintain traditional check-out methods for older guests.

This is Lesson Eight of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” Make sure to check out Lessons One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven if you haven’t already.

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Seven—Planning

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By Andrew McQuilkin

For most retailers, merchants wield a lot of power, battling over every square and linear foot of space for their department. It’s usually the last department merchant to touch the plan that gets everything they want. To make the customer journey work, the layout of each category and service needs to not only make business sense but also needs to be intuitive for guests as they walk through the store.

Customer Journey

Grocery: At most supermarkets, there’s no evidence of a journey, as there’s little obvious connection between the coolers and their back-end requirements, the perimeter-focused service offerings, and then the center store aisles with their endcaps supported by co-op dollars and major brands staking out sections of gondola runs.

Department stores: Traditional department stores feature a center core with high-margin businesses on an axis to the main entrance, then the women’s shoe department stretching to the next area. The biggest decision has historically been whether to put the men’s department on the first floor or relegate it to the second level with the children’s department and intimate apparel.

Advice: As grocery stores continue to expand into apparel, beauty and accessories, at what point should there be a high-margin center core experience? Also, with the link between customer behavior and sales becoming better understood, there is now a role for technology in determining the most efficient and productive layouts.

This is Lesson Seven of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” Make sure to check out Lessons One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six if you haven’t already.

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Six—Customer Journey

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By Andrew McQuilkin

The customer journey is the intended story that unfolds as guests walk around and experience the store. This starts with the view from the street and the entrance, then continues with how they walk through the store, pay for their purchases and exit. It’s everything guests see and touch along the defined path, where each aisle creates vistas and focal points that draw guests to the next stage of their journey.

Grocery: An engaging journey is virtually impossible because of the walls of continuous cold cases and promotional endcaps that create vistas more than 100 feet long with few, if any, focal points. Guests shop the never-ending outside perimeter and must memorize the maze of gondolas in the center of the store. They’re left on their own to create “journeys” based merely on their shopping needs.

Department stores: Main entrances feature high volume/margin products, then guests traverse a series of rooms/departments. The rooms limit sightlines to a 30- to 40-foot vista, allowing a story to be created for each department. Aisles lead in the four compass directions from one room to the other, encouraging guests to wander, browse and discover more offerings.

Advice: Identify the intended customer journey for each guest profile and how the story of your brand should unfold. Does the aisle vista lead to a set of stock doors, or is it purposefully centered on a service offering, featured promotion or brand? Plan the cadence of messages around key moments of pause and physical touchpoints. Add surprise and delight by breaking up the long center store runs. What if the wine tasting or demo kitchen was in the center? A great story is memorable.

This is Lesson Six of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” Make sure to check out Lessons One, Two, Three, Four, and Five if you haven’t already.

Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores: Lesson Five—Graphics and Signage

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By Andrew McQuilkin

At its core, wayfinding graphics are meant to help guests easily navigate around stores. It’s critical that there be a graphic hierarchy for key brand messages, departments, classifications, promotions, pricing, and policy. Technology and “branded architecture” also plays an important role.

Brothers Marketplace – Waltham

Grocery: Differentiated department signage is king, as the signage stretches from the top of cases to the underside of the ceiling and runs from one end of the area to the other. Each graphic typically has separate themes with different colors, unrelated patterns, imagery, and fonts. Aisles are marked with classifications but then confused with multiple layers of promotions, sub-classifications, and pricing.

Department stores: Their two-tiered approach to wayfinding includes brand signage at the highest levels then pricing and product information at the merchandise level. Temporary promotional and seasonal graphics have their home at cross aisles, on displays, and atop cosmetic back islands.

Advice: Try this simple test. Take a photo of a typical grocery department and make a horizontal mark at the bottom of the page for each sign or message. If the marks create a nearly continuous line, you are asking the guest to absorb too many messages. There should also be no more than five vertical information points. Guests will appreciate a simplified and consistent graphics hierarchy in which where every message has a place.

This is Lesson Five of “Lessons Grocers Can Learn From Department Stores.” Make sure to check out Parts One, Two, Three, and Four if you haven’t already.