Retail experience stages a comeback

David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

It’s not that experience ever stopped being important at retail.

But let’s face it, there were other things to think about — especially safety and staying in stock — when the world first turned upside down a few months back.

But now it seems shoppers want it all, and food and drug retailers need to be prepared to offer new experiences in addition to everything else.

Retailers are introducing their latest efforts, including new formats, remodels, rebrandings, and product line launches. Some of the key initiatives are from companies such as Wegmans Food Markets, H-E-B, Giant, CVS Pharmacy and even Amazon.

Understandably, experiences may need to be tempered for pandemic safety needs, but within those constraints retailers still have a lot of leverage to bring excitement and enhanced solutions to customers still spending a lot of time at home.

Wegmans is a case in point on how retailers can pivot to improve customer satisfaction at this stage of the global crisis. A recent article in Progressive Grocer, DSN’s sister publication, profiled the unveiling of a Wegmans 103,000 sq.-ft. store in West Cary, North Carolina. Even amidst social distancing and mask wearing practices, the customer excitement was palpable as shoppers encountered restaurants, sampling and other offerings.

The store’s foodservice attractions included expanded offerings of sushi, Indian and Asian offerings — bringing restaurant-type experiences to food retail. Wegmans has placed extreme emphasis on in-store safety measures during the pandemic, a fact that likely increases shopper comfort levels. The retailer had to make some pandemic compromises even with this store unveiling, including to ensure hot and cold bars have appropriate safety strategies in place, the PG article explained. That said, this store’s experience likely is far better than what many customers are used to in the COVID-19 era, which raises the bar for future expectations at retail.

Wegmans is not the only retailer determined to step up experiences for consumers.

  • The Giant Co. has unveiled its new brand platform called For Today’s Table, accompanied by elements such as new store décor and advertising. The strategy includes testing of in-store smoothie bars and kombucha taps, and expanded product assortments.
  • H-E-B introduced a food hall inside an Austin store with a lineup of six restaurants. Called Main Streat by H-E-B, the food hall features concepts such as Roots Chicken Shak by Chef Tiffany Derry, True Texas BBQ, Calle Taqueria, Yumai Japanese Grill, The Meltery, and Bar at Mueller.
  • Amazon has opened a long-awaited fresh format with a store in California. The store offers a unique mix of fresh product — from breads to made-to-order pizzas — along with technology strategies that boost convenience. The latter includes Amazon Dash Carts that enable customers to skip checkout lines and the ability to access Alexa shopping lists to check off items as consumers shop.
  • CVS Pharmacy has enhanced its health and well-being experience for customers with more than 80 new items under the Live Better by CVS Health brand. The retailer also committed to ensuring all packaging in the expanded health and wellness brand will be at least 80% recyclable.

It’s likely some of these retailer plans were underway before the pandemic began and may have been put on hold temporarily. This would have enabled retailers to further fine-tune strategies to be on target for this new landscape.

Which is exactly the point. Being on target for today’s situation isn’t just about safety, and it isn’t just about experience. It’s about both. That’s what customers increasingly will demand.

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