FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Changing Face of Grocery Shopping

Evolving consumer tastes and business trends are changing the way we shop for groceries.  Once a dull, utilitarian task that stressed low prices over style, grocery shopping is taking on new and even exciting facets.

In the US, perhaps the most notable trend is that toward upscale stores such as Wegman's, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.  In addition to providing the customer with innovative and exotic products -- many of which are organic and ecologically sensitive -- these stores strive to create a shopping experience, offering cooking classes and other attractions to make the stores special destinations.  Many of these stores also have cafes and eat-in facilities, allowing shoppers to dine where they shop (serving a dual purpose of offering a time-saving service while showcasing the store's foods).  Such moves appear to be paying off, as shoppers often travel out of their way to shop at these stores.

In these stores, enhancements to the customer experience is more than just window dressing.  These stores consider themselves to be on a mission... and the result is that their employees are energized, and pass that sense of purpose on to their customers.  Attention to detail, then, is an outgrowth of employee passion.

The trend toward upgrading supermarkets is being noticed in Europe, as the Austrian chain MPreis is incorporating stunning and progressive architecture in its store construction.  With each store featuring its own eye-catching design, MPreis stores are as far away as one can get from bland "big box" retail construction. 

One notable aspect of this trend is that, with all this attention to style and mission, prices in these stores are only slightly higher than that of their discount competitors -- who are taking notice of these stores' success. 

The most notable of these, Wal-Mart, is preparing to launch a line of organic foods.  Organic advocates generally applaud this move, as Wal-Mart's power in the retail space can only raise organic products' profile in the mainstream, though some critics dismiss the move as "greenwashing," or using organics as a mere marketing ploy while changing little about their retail operations.

Upscale grocers are thriving because informed consumers are voting with their wallets, choosing style, service, quality and sustainability over low prices in their grocery shopping, even if that means paying slightly more. 

Sources:  Springwise, WorldChanging

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