CHICAGO -- To transmit a positive image to consumers immediately, supermarket retailers should treat the design of their stores as if it is a package.
Because the retail venue is the first thing a shopper sees, it serves as the point where an initial perception is made regarding the quality of the corporation's image, according to Kevin Kelley, principal, Shook Perception Design, Charlotte, N.C.
Kelley proffered his professional opinions during the session "Branding Strategies for Supermarket Executives: Insights and Confessions of a Recovering Architect" at the recent FMI trade show here.
"Think of your store design as a three-dimensional package. Similar to the laws of package design, a consumption environment is a package. The objective of package design is to make the food taste good before you even try it," he told session attendees. "Absolve yourself today of the prejudices that image is something you tack on. It is not something you tack on; it is who you are. In this new economy the driving force is image."
Consumers don't really know what is good and what is not, and they are dependent on perceptions to formulate that information. It's a case of judging a book by its cover, Kelley said. Therefore, he said he is amazed at the amount of freedom his past grocery clients have given him with respect to their store's design.
"They really didn't spend a lot of time dictating to us about what their corporation was about," he said.
Certain practices can help retailers create, shape and institutionalize perception, Kelley said, including using surrogates, like the building environment, to represent the brand. Also, cues and triggers can act as prompts to what an environment is all about, and storytelling may be the best way to have an image stick in your mind, he said, using Aunt Jemima and the Pillsbury Dough Boy as examples.
"It's called the recall value. The hardest thing to get in the supermarket is recall value, but personalities and stories stick."
Another key to standing out from the competition is to offer "better sameness," said Kelley. "The supermarket industry gets preoccupied by trends. The problem is everybody is offering the same solution. If you look at the history of business throughout time, when things start to homogenize it creates new opportunities for new companies," he said, referring to such companies as Amazon.com.
"One of the things I'm most impressed with Wegmans is, when you meet their people they look like they're Eagle Scouts. They have all these merit badges on them for things they've done and they say things like 'one of the top 100 places to work.' I haven't even experienced this service yet and I feel like these people are really good at service," Kelley said.
Another key to influencing consumers to shop a store regularly and frequently is keying into their lifestyle needs. Kelley suggests creating an "entertainment aisle" in which sodas and other beverages are flanked by things like frozen pizzas and other snacks to replace the standard beverage aisle.
"Look at every aisle in the store and ask 'What is the potential of what an aisle can become?' The future is a series of vignette lifestyles."
"You have to let go of some of your consumers -- you can't have them all," he said, using a minivan mom and a conspicuous bachelor as examples.
"Allow for trade-offs. This truly is the essence of strategy -- choosing what not to do," he said.