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Grocery retailers have learned to promote their fresh options, from fruit and vegetables to freshly baked bread to deli options cut to order. Customers find great value in these fresh offerings, so a store that can offer more of them generally can attract far more shoppers. Yet this overriding focus on fresh options may be having unintended and unwelcome consequences for packaged items that account for most of the total dollar sales in grocery stores.

Woman in grocery store produce aisle with shopping basketThe center store refers to the middle of each aisle, where most grocers stock seemingly less compelling or exciting products, though ones that consumers still require. Imagine, for example, the cereal or detergent aisle in your local grocer. Unless a particular item is on promotion and displayed prominently on the end cap, these products are lined up with all their competitors, with little to set them apart.

Because these aisles tend to be less visually interesting, shoppers do not spend much time in them. According to one recent study, grocery shoppers spend an average of 13 minutes in stores, and only 18 percent of that time involves the center store. Instead, they tend to gravitate to the perimeter of the store, where they spend 39 percent of the time they allot for shopping. (The remaining 44 percent of their time is taken up with navigating and waiting in line to check out.)

However, center store products account for approximately 73 percent of grocers’ total dollar sales. Despite their prominence, grocery stores have had trouble finding growth in these categories, likely because of the popular emphasis on healthier and fresher food options. In response to these trends, several options are available to retailers.

For example, in a recent “Playbook,” Kraft recommended organizing stores by types of meals, linking the perimeter better to the center store, and engaging shoppers in the middle of the aisle. Methods to increase such engagement might include staggered aisles, the use of recessed shelves, pyramid-shaped displays, focused lighting, more in-aisle sampling kiosks, or innovative signage.

Instead though, many retailers seem stuck with traditional designs, with their uninspiring displays and redundant looking rows of products. If they rely on such monotonous merchandising approaches, even if they can attract customers inside with their fresh options, stores are unlikely to sell enough to survive.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why are sales in the center store declining or stagnating?
  2. What can be done to increase sales in the center store?


Source:Bernice Hurst, Retail Wire, March 6, 2015