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The Washington Post reports on a Wharton study suggesting that the “supermarket industry has been slow to respond to consumer needs, in part because grocery chains have some outmoded ideas of how people really shop.”

Among the findings: “Shoppers like to go in a counterclockwise direction; they don't weave up and down every aisle, in fact they rarely go all the way down any aisle; and to speed things up, they stick to the perimeter and avoid huge chunks of the store.” The researchers also believe that, according to the Post, “the grocery industry has spent too much time focusing on such things as loyalty programs (discount cards, for example) and not enough time on store layouts that meet shoppers' needs.”

The Post also notes that “quick trips, in particular, are a growing trend among shoppers, who might not think about what to make for dinner until they're driving home at the end of the day. In fact, the traditional once-a-week trip to the market to stock up on groceries is fast becoming a relic.” And the Wharton researchers say that stores need to be reengineered to reflect these shifting priorities.
KC's View:
What a crock. On so many levels.

First of all, the Wharton folks seem to assume that the poor folks who run the supermarket industry have no idea what they are doing, have no understanding of the consumer, and that this situation can only be remedied by some academics with computers.

We also suspect that the Wharton researchers don’t do the regular shopping for their families. They look at the supermarket as a laboratory, not as an organic, evolving organism.

Of course, a lot of supermarket executives don’t do the food shopping for their families, either. And a lot of supermarkets aren’t organic, evolving organisms, but rather are linear, stagnant entities.

Wharton does have the observation about loyalty marketing right, except for the wrong reason. Loyalty marketing hasn’t been a transformational initiative for many chains not because it doesn’t matter as much as store layout, but because they weren’t doing loyalty marketing – they were just offering discounts through another venue.

The problem with stores, in our humble (or maybe not so humble) opinion, isn’t so much how stores are laid out, but that most stores have a fairly homogenous approach to marketing and merchandising, doing very little to differentiate themselves from the competition.

The Wharton folks seem to think it is all a matter of science. What they don’t realize – and what a lot of retailers don’t realize – is that great retailing also is an art.