Winners in today’s competitive economy will be retailers who go beyond service to deliver a satisfying shopping experience. One effective way to accomplish that is through innovative store layout and design.
Stores used to be designed to maximize every square foot of retail space by squeezing in as many shelving units as possible and stacking them as high as possible, according to Joseph Bona, president of Bona Design Lab.
But that strategy is now less effective thanks to the internet. Today, customers can just as easily shop online, selecting from among the world’s worth of products.
“As a result, when consumers decide to come to your store, they want to be connected in ways they can’t by shopping online,” Bona says. “They’re looking for and expecting an experience. They want to be engaged — perhaps with tastings, information on new products, anything that engages all their senses and makes this more than a transactional activity.”
1) Consider Modern Necessities
Retail consultant Bump Williams, president and CEO of BWC Consulting, says today’s store design should revolve around some key indicators, including eliminating or minimizing out-of-stock conditions, offering variety, local brands, and a fair amount of shelf space to the distributors who service their stores.
“Retailers also want to make it easy for shoppers to find what they’re looking for,” Williams says. “At the same time, educating consumers, generating higher market basket rings, highlighting new items on the shelves and giving higher velocity brands more shelf space is key.”
Some of the biggest changes that have taken place within the beverage market as it relates to store design includes retailers trying to accommodate all of the new packages being introduced over the past five years without expanding actual shelf space.
According to Clare Marino, partner in the commercial studio GTM Architects in Bethesda, MD, retailers now have an increased volume of product choices and a higher demand for specialty products. Stores now carry a wider variety of products, increasing the need for larger stores or more varied displays and increased storage capacity.
“Many beverage companies have seasonal and promotional displays,” Marino says. Creating flexible zones for rounds, tables and chilled displays along with classic fixed wall units works well.”
Designers can also create moveable displays or tables that can be used for occasional tasting events.
2) Curate Rather Than Overstock
Bob Phibbs, CEO at the Retail Doctor, a retail consultancy based in New York, says it used to be having a ton of choice was seen as best. Nowadays, shoppers are looking for more of a curated experience.
“Too much choice becomes work, and if that’s what it feels like, shoppers will spend less time in your store, robbing you of add-on sales,” Phibbs says.
3) Utilize Technology
Not surprising, technology is now playing a much bigger role in alcohol store layout and design strategies.
In fact, Bona believes technology can ultimately play a huge role in helping customers make purchase decisions and in building loyalty.
“To enhance the shopping experience and keep people in the loop, larger stores could use interactive touchscreen displays located in key departments,” Bona says. “During really busy times, they could rely on roving employees armed with iPads. The idea is to help people locate individual categories and to use technology to do things like explain flavor profiles, offer mixing recipes and provide various pricing and promotional information.
“Click and collect and pay with smart phones will soon be the norm,” he adds. “Stores will definitely want to facilitate those types of services as well.”
Today’s technology is also making it easier to identify profit generators, slower moving brands, key lifestyle growth and emerging trends including IPA, gluten free, local and sessionable beer. Technology now allows retailers to set shelves for profitability, movement and manage non-performing products easier for maximization of turns on inventory.
“It’s also easier to identify shopper purchase behavior including frequency, loyalty and market basket composition,” Williams says. “And it’s easier to identify brand, segment and category switching—beer shoppers switching to wine, premium been shoppers switching to craft and import, etc.”
Technology has allowed customers to be better informed and sophisticated.
“The use of various apps for locating stores and product are being used,” says John Haronian, retail consultant at Wine & Spirits Retail Marketing. “This can result in a hit-and-run purchase, thus the importance of creating an inviting and pleasant experience to facilitate a longer shopping experience and ultimately more sales.”
4) Maximize Customer Navigation
Ask yourself: what attracts you to your favorite retail store? Is it the choice of products? The level of customer service? Or the functionality of the space? Today’s liquor stores often lack the store design ‘wow’ factors that improve consumers’ shopping experiences. From cluttered POP displays to confusing traffic flow, many c-stores leave store design at the proverbial front door.
Sometimes people fail to realize the importance of planning for and understanding the customer journey — when decisions are made, where people shop, how they shop, what other needs can be served and how to deliver an experience.
“That might have been okay before the Internet, but it is a big problem in our present era of experiential retail,” Bona says.
Bona points to a small wine shop in Manhattan called Bottle Rocket that is one of his favorites because of the unique way they help customers navigate their purchases of wine.
“They don’t do it by region, varietals or location, but rather by occasion: eating meat, eating fish, birthdays, etc.,” Bona says. “They make it fun, enjoyable and easy, the way retail experiences should be.”
Some of the inherent mistakes Williams sees beverage retailers make include not allowing the facts to dictate space management, as well as trying to be all things to all shoppers.
“Some retailers are limiting variety due to shelf constraints, not capitalizing on shopper trends, and not wanting to be first to market with new products,” Williams says. “Some also focus too much on private labels, and are too slow to react or take the initiative on local and new products. They also buy too much beer, wine and spirits—putting it on display when it will take months to sell all the inventory, which ties up real estate.”
Haronian says it is vital that retailers activate all four corners of the store in order to bring customers in as deep into the store without over-taxing them. This exposes that customer to as much product as possible.
“The layout of the different departments play a big part here also, using ‘need’ versus ‘not needed but nice to have,’” Haronian says. “It’s important to maximize departments and the products within those departments.”
Remember, the ease of shopping makes the customer feel comfortable while shopping.
“Wide aisles become important where possible,” Haronian says. “Checkouts also are very important, allowing the customer to exit as quickly as possible after they have made their decision to purchase their products.”
Smaller companies cannot afford the technology and are unable to have the knowledge needed to design properly — causing wholesalers to control their layout and design, bring in excessive manufactures displays, neon, and POS.
“This detracts from stores merchandising product properly and a fight for the customer’s attention,” Haronian says. “Tighter aisles, poorly lit stores, with no planned traffic flow are the results of uninformed owners.”
When it comes to store design it’s a good idea to start by thinking about categories and adjacencies—how you want customers to navigate the store.
“Make the store easy to shop. You want shoppers to be able to find their favorite spirits or mixers as efficiently as possible,” Bona says. “At the same time, though, you want to allow for exploring and learning about other products. This can be achieved through wider aisles and good communications.”
You also need to understand how consumers operate in the retail environment.
“In North America, shoppers enter a store and want to go to their right, counterclockwise. That means the checkout should be on the left as you enter the store,” Phibbs says. “When it is on the right, you have customers going to pay by crossing people who are coming in and vice versa, which never is fun for the customer.”
5) Embrace Future Trends Today
Amazon and other “etailers” will continue to grow and take market share away from brick-and-mortar stores, so the winners going forward will be those who understand how technology can enhance the retail experience and connect online with brick and mortar into a seamless experience.
Phibbs says retail design will be leaning more and more on heat maps of stores—finding what works best where by connecting the shoppers journey to the rings on the register.
“I expect more stores to have smaller display units, circular more than square and on rollers so they can move out of the way for events or reconfigure the store in a short amount of time,” Phibbs says.
Of course, customers still want, expect and demand an experience when they shop. “Look beyond merely selling bottles of spirits. Figure out how you can build loyalty and make the customer journey easier and more enjoyable,” Bona says.
Marino adds that retailers will continue to see customers who want a unique and customized experience at each store.
In fact, as part of innovative store design, retailers are featuring beer drinking stations inside the store, social gathering places, and they are reallocating shelf space away from old, tired brands to more dynamic and profitable growth brands, segments and brewers.
“As with other industries, larger stores will dominate, which will create more opportunities for increased merchandising and expansion of selection and service,” Haronian says. “Customers want faster and easier checking out of stores — giving us the challenge to meet their demands. They want the product when they want it and how they want it — causing retailers to respond to their needs or they will go elsewhere. Pick up service also will become a larger part of the retail business. It is up to us to design stores of the future to satisfy these customer’s needs.”
Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. She writes for dozens of publications on a variety of business-related topics. When not writing, Maura serves as executive director of the literacy nonprofit, Read Indeed.