Older Shoppers Irritated by Supermarket Layout Changes

Discussion
Mar 12, 2012
Tom Ryan

According to a recent survey of 1,000 U.K. shoppers by Aldata, adjustments within store layouts and placement of products have overtaken "out of stocks" and "empty shelves" as a key frustration for older shoppers. Over 36 percent of shoppers over the age of 55 spent at least an extra ten minutes in supermarkets due to confusion caused by changed layouts.

Across age groups, the survey found a third of shoppers are spending 20 percent longer in-store when retailers change their layouts.

Mark Croxton, head of Global Customer Support for retail optimization specialist Aldata, the sponsor of the survey, said in statement: "The over 50s value convenience over cost and by making store layout changes where they see no perceived benefit, retailers are in fact risking their long-term loyalty to the store."

Younger shoppers were seen as more receptive to the potential benefits from shifts in store layouts. Just over a quarter (25 percent) of respondents aged 18 to 24 found layout changes to be the most distressing part of their shopping experience. But that rate jumped to almost half (47 percent) for those between the ages of 35 to 54.

Another problem across age groups is perception. Sixty-two percent of overall respondents don’t believe that changing in-store layouts is for their benefit. They see them as a ploy to keep consumers in the store longer and/or direct them to new or expensive product lines.

"Shoppers tire of stores when they are unable to find the products they want," said Mr. Croxton. "When it comes to planning stores, retailers have to do so carefully as they could be pushing loyal customers too far and frustrating them to the point where they leave empty-handed and into a competitor store."

Discussion Questions: Are retailers underestimating the effect of layout changes and category moves on loyal customers? How should stores explain reformatted layouts to ease the transition for shoppers?

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21 Comments on "Older Shoppers Irritated by Supermarket Layout Changes"


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Tony Orlando
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It should make sense when making changes in your store. Combining gluten-free, organics, and diabetic foods in one aisle makes sense. Many corporate stores move displays and aisle cross merchandisers frequently to give them a fresh look. Complete overhauls are necessary to weed out the slow SKUs and make room for new items.

How many older folks like real change? Not very many, so keep things fresh and try not to confuse the customer too much, or you might lose them.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

When I was at university they built a large new campus. But rather than have the architects design the sidewalks they simply sodded the entire open area and let students go where they needed to go. A few months later the right decision as to where to lay sidewalks was self-evident. Kind of like the city of Boston putting streets where the cows used to walk.

I wonder if there isn’t a ‘natural’ and optimal layout hidden in the spontaneous behavior of shoppers. And that 62% who think changes in store layout are a scheme to make more money are absolutely right — that’s behind pretty well ALL changes isn’t it?

Liz Crawford
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Older shoppers’ habits are ingrained and entrenched over many years of loyal shopping. Younger shoppers not only have different shopping needs (maybe more suited to the re-arranged merchandise), but are also not laboring under years of habitual behavior.

A possible transition — shelf talkers helping shoppers with navigation. Bold icons for way-finding. There are ways to help shoppers reduce their frustration level regardless of age.

David Biernbaum
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Most retailers give a tremendous amount of diligence and thought to planning store layouts. Changes tend to be subtle and generally they should not be overly confusing to customers. However, when changes do take place, retailers should use temporary signage to re-direct consumers in aisle 3 to aisle 4 if that’s where the incontinence products used to be.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

There is always a key trade off between consistency and change. In life some things benefit from sameness and consistency while others benefit from change and variety. As humans we seem to need a certain amount of positive tension. Such positive tension drive us to try new restaurants, relieving the boredom of the same old eating spot.

When it comes to supermarket shopping, the key is to minimize the extra shopping effort created by changing the store layout and at the same time create some positive tension, making the food shopping visit less boring. Keep displays and end caps fresh without moving the cereal aisle from one side of the store to the other. Make the flow the same, albeit routine and somewhat boring, while interrupting the trip with new and exciting things along the way.

Steve Montgomery
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

When I studied food retailing in college, one of the ways we were taught to increase sales was to change your store layout periodically to expose your customers to new categories, items, etc., that they may not have noticed before. Lots of changes since then have taken place with store size, layouts, products, etc., and customer demographics.

One thing is, the base group of customers for many stores has gotten older and they find comfort in being able to find what they want where it has always been. One simple aid would be to place signage at the former location indicating the new location. In that way at least they will know where to find it versus trying to find a store associate, etc.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
7 years 6 months ago

Change is not made without inconvenience to many, particularly older folks, even when improving from “comfortable” to better. Thus the retailer must keep his targeted objectives straight when making layout changes.

Instead of trying to explain reformatted layouts to ease the transition for shoppers, why not include some representative customers in the pre-planning before any changes.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

The issue is fairly simple. Customers want to be able to get out of a store as quickly as possible and retailers would love to trap them for as long as they can. Add in the fact that the longer a behavior is practiced and the more routine it becomes as an individual optimizes it for himself or herself, the more resistant that individual is to change, and you begin to understand why the older the shopper is, the less they like morphing store layouts.

Oh … and Ian is right … they know you’re changing for yourself, not them!

margrette vanderburg
Guest
margrette vanderburg
7 years 6 months ago

Not only are the constant changes confusing, but they do not make sense where products are displayed. Having the same product in two different areas of the store doesn’t make sense.

Ben Ball
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
All too often, retailers change store layouts for the same reason brand managers change commercials and package designs. They declare them “tired and worn out” which they are — to the people who look at them continually. This would be the retailers and brand managers respectively, of course. Consumers don’t see any need to change the store and they don’t see any commercial enough for it to truly “wear out” these days. When I worked at General Mills, one of a brand manager’s favorite playgrounds was package design. And it was an area where senior management let brand managers have pretty free rein — with one catch. Before a proposed package design change hit the shelf, it had to beat the current design in quantitative testing among current heavy users of the brand. If it could pass that standard, senior management could be assured it was a beneficial change. Perhaps retailers should come up with some similar test for new store designs. Today’s virtual technologies should make it possible. Stop aggravating your customers. Stop making… Read more »
Mark Heckman
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
Over the years in retailing, I’ve learned that how you handle resets and remodels can make all the difference in keeping the customer engaged and positive about the changes. True, older shoppers are arguably the most sensitive group to accepting change, but as others have posted, it is all about getting in and out as quickly as possible. That remains the goal of the vast majority of all shoppers, not just the elderly. Some investments the retailer can make that will pay big dividends are store maps with category locations on them, but even more effective is to place “ambassadors” throughout the store, especially during peak shopping hours to help shoppers find the products that have been moved. In a more macro sense, try to minimize major resets to the extent possible. Some retailers seem to be “re-set happy.” While these changes may make perfect sense on paper, they can wear out even the most loyal shopper. Given the increasing propensity for shoppers to shop multiple stores for their shopping needs, playing hide and seek… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Large signage, easy to read shelf tags, high contrast lettering; are all critical to success in reaching out to all customers to ensure an easily understandable store layout. This is key to developing a full customer comfort level as soon as they enter the store.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
7 years 6 months ago

Store layout isn’t the problem. The problem arises from store layouts that defy logic and therefore frustrate shoppers. For instance the many times the bankrupt Winn-Dixie chain has a store layout in my area that separates the canned fruit from the canned vegetables by 10 isles. Logic dictates that canned goods should be marketed together, just like meat, produce, seafood, paper products, detergents, cleaners, etc.

I would suggest to all retailers that making products easy to find results in happy customers. When a retailer intentionally lays out a store to inconvenience and confuse shoppers in the hope that they will increase sales by encouraging impulse purchases, they are biting off their nose to spite their face. Frustrating a customer is never a solution to any problem. If you aren’t selling enough then look at your product presentation, pricing and OOS.

Dave King
Guest
Dave King
7 years 6 months ago

I wonder when supermarkets or other stores will mimic the Costco strategy for store layout? Costco has a regularly changing center-store which promotes “treasure hunting” and impulse purchasing while the perimeter aisles stay relatively constant. Shoppers expect and enjoy the changing center store at Costco but they also have the comfort of knowing that the “outer store” Categories such as cereal, paper, frozen foods, etc, will be in the same place from trip to trip.

Perhaps a Costco inspired store layout can generate new interest and increased sales in supermarkets that have looked pretty much the same (and lost share) over the last twenty or thirty years?

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
7 years 6 months ago

If you can’t find it, you surely can’t buy it. Layout changes and category moves are an ageless issue, i.e., this isn’t a pain point solely for senior shoppers. Rather, this is fundamental to creating a pleasing shopping experience that keeps shoppers of all ages coming back.

In today’s retail industry, it’s nearly impossible to avoid some layout changes and category moves. When changes are afoot, retailers should take steps to avoid angering shoppers by using store signage, weekly circulars, the website and emails to notify customers that changes are coming, help explain the benefits/needs for the changes, keep them informed while changes are ongoing, solicit feedback and post new floor plans when complete. And during the busiest days and dayparts, extra staff should be designated to circulate on the floor to help direct shoppers and keep frustrations at bay.

By successfully developing and implementing a plan to ensure the shopping experience remains friendly during store layout/category changes, merchants can ensure that a temporary inconvenience doesn’t cause a permanent loss in customers.

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

This is a major conundrum in that if you change your layouts, older customers get frustrated, but if you don’t, millenials (younger customers) won’t even go down an aisle or sometimes into your store at all. What’s not mentioned here and what we’ve learned in studies is that younger customers find the standard grocery layout “awful” and “boring” and are gravitating to stores that are much more interesting and change more frequently like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

So, what to do? As a famous football player once said, “you’ve got to pick a lane and drive it” — translated for retail: are you going to market to the next generation (80 million strong) or the existing one? Whatever your choice, pick one … go for it, and don’t look back.

Warren Thayer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Everyone over 55 is crotchety, and for good reason, dag nab it! And when you move the peanut butter, some of us go into full-blown anxiety attacks over whether you’ve moved the peanut butter or we have Alzheimer’s. So yeah, as several folk have suggested, extra signage would help. Maybe even little maps explaining the changes, so long as you don’t pretend it’s for the benefit of the shopper. Or, you can — we’re used to hearing that sort of thing now.

Mark Burr
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Retailers definitely underestimate the effect of layout changes.

If a retailer could explain one to me in one sentence to which I would respond, Wow! I would like to meet and see the change that inspired that response nine times out of ten.

Most likely most can give a long drawn out explanation in language that even their counterparts can’t understand. Few could explain it in a few words that are actually focused on an improvement of the customer experience.

Layout changes are based on a philosophical hunch most times and not on basis of fact.

Finding what you are looking for is one of the most critical points in the customer experience. When you mess with that, you need to be way out front with not only an explanation the customer sees as a positive but an overwhelming attempt to guide them through the new layout. Seeing this type of companion effort is very rare.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

I really don’t think this is any more of an issue for a particular age group. I remember as a store manager in the ’80s that EVERYONE would complain, and that they always think we’re just trying to upset them.

Better, simple, honest communication via in-store signing as well as a few easy-to-remember lines for employees to repeat to shoppers explaining the top reasons why the store is reorganizing the floor layout.

Tim Callan
Guest
Tim Callan
7 years 6 months ago
One option available to retailers is to pilot new layouts in a small but representative sample of stores before rolling them out en masse. It’s a practice that as been the standard for years in other selling disciplines such as direct marketing and online retail, and there’s every reason it can work well in brick-and-mortar retail is as well. The idea is to pick a set of stores that will represent the chain as a whole, reflecting any particulars of geography, format, or customer base that need accounting for and also seeing enough volume that the sample will be statistically relevant. Then the new format is put in production for these test stores, running until enough shoppers have been measured that the results are 95% likely to be accurate within a very small margin for error. Retailers should use not only measurement tools like surveys (as described in this article) but also “hard” metrics such as traffic conversion rate, number of sales at the register, and average ticket value. Survey results provide valuable color, but… Read more »
Herb Sorensen
Guest
7 years 6 months ago
So I am not a retailer, and have never laid out a supermarket, but I have studied how millions of shoppers have shopped supermarket layouts. And it’s not apparent to me that retailers have much understanding of how shoppers shop, period. Since shoppers probably make 80% of their purchases in supermarkets, more or less on autopilot, changes in layout can obviously be seriously destructive. Even good and proper changes in layout can be seriously destructive to sales. This is not just because of the “habit thing,” although that certainly is a factor. Asking shoppers questions about these issues is mostly a worthless undertaking. First, because shoppers have already been “trained” in how retailing should be done, by how it has been done. That is, from the shopper’s point of view, how it has been done is the way it is supposed to be done. I do think Dave King is right on target with his comments relative to Costco. But if you actually did this in a supermarket, shoppers very well might NOT reward you… Read more »
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