Is Center Store Dead? Thoughts on Reviving the Grocery Store Layout

Recent events prompted customers to rethink how they shop, and interest is shifting from center store to fresher alternatives and online pantry purchases. When analyzing these emerging center store trends, our food retail designers found several opportunities for the redesign and revitalization of the center store layout.

Repositioning Center Store
With the surge of online shopping and the need to reduce touchpoints, retailers are rethinking how much product needs to be stocked in stores. Certain household staples, including toilet paper, soup, etc., can be displayed on shelves, but other inventory can now be relocated to the back of house or other on-site storage facilities. This repositioning of the center store makes more room for fresh items, adds area to the sales floor, and increases back of house prep areas for fresh food, a restaurant concept, new departments and more.

As an alternative to traditional product displays, grocers can create an immersive digital experience in the center store where customers select products through an in-store electronic ordering system, or online order. After picking out their fresh items, customers can pick up their virtual selections at check out. As we see the functions of center store and back of house converge, a new design opportunity emerges creating a multi-purpose shoppable space.

Circulation within Center Store
With the increase in online sales, a new type of customer has emerged in grocery stores: the third-party shopper. As multiple types of people (in-store shopper, third-party shopper and employees) converge inside the store, aisle congestion has become a major concern. The implementation of one-way aisles, as a temporary solution to alleviate safety concerns, has also spurred the need to shorten overall aisle lengths to reduce shopper frustration. A possible design option which would improve circulation is to isolate the in-store shopper from the third-party shopper and leverage the convergence of center store and back of house creating a zone that can be shopped from two sides.

Product Availability
With automation coming into play, the design of product storage and stocking procedures will focus more on cubic feet rather than square feet. Display shelves will evolve to maximize volume and could incorporate the ability to be restocked from above. A grocery store is traditionally organized with a front of house sales floor and back of house storage area, however, by leveraging current technologies in automation, a store can be partitioned vertically, hyper-utilizing volumetric space. Shelves can also track how much inventory is on the floor, to ensure an accurate, real-time count of store inventory which benefits both the online and in-store shopper and influences a customer’s store preference.

Reducing Touch
A product’s journey from source to consumer is extremely important right now due to safety concerns. Distribution centers have zeroed in on the ability to deliver product to stores as quickly and efficiently as possible, all while reducing the points of human contact with that product. Once that product has been delivered to the store, the focus turns to the desire customers have to touch and pick out their fresh food. A potential reorganization of how produce is displayed could reduce touchpoints by sorting items according to ripeness, eliminating some of the need to dig through the bin to find the perfect avocado. This could streamline selection processes for all types of shoppers – online, third-party and in-store. The flow of a product through a store and into the customers basket, in lieu of stockpiling, is going to be crucial.

In past years, we’ve seen the popularity of subscription-based programs grow. This creates an opportunity for grocers to take advantage of this trend and create a system for customers to have their weekly order delivered directly to their home from the grocer’s warehouse. This not only reduces touchpoints for those products along the way by skipping the actual store, but also allows stores to accurately determine inventory needs.

It is no doubt the center store of a grocery store is changing. The center store remains an important component of the grocery store and our team continues to analyze key trends and shopper habits to rethink the traditional design and create a convenient, safe and streamlined shopping environment for customers.

About the author:

Meredith Ditty, Assoc. AIA, graduated from the Kansas State University with a Master of Architecture degree. Since joining BRR in 2015, Meredith has worked for several different clients and has emerged as a leader on her team supporting one of the firm’s large grocery client. She works on several different project types, including new builds and tenant improvements, and follows her projects through every aspect of the design process providing excellent customer service at every stage. Email her.