What's up with those store sizes?


Ever hear a tune on the radio that seems to go on forever and wonder why it’s taking so long to end? It's because we’re accustomed to songs that don’t last more than three or four minutes tops. When a pop ditty goes much longer our brains start to tune out. It’s the same theory behind TV sitcoms and why hour-long situation comedies rarely work (my Exhibit A: the lengthy and unfunny Seinfeld series wrapup).

That thought came to mind as I read an article in the Globe and Mail that questions whether some grocery stores are too large. Be it Loblaws or Walmart, giant supercentres aren’t in touch with today’s shopper, the article pointed out. Consumers want a faster in-and-out experience and are heading to smaller stores–anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 square feet.

The Globe didn’t offer any proof that shoppers are shunning Olympian-sized supermarkets. But I tend to agree with the conclusion, anway. People are so rushed most days that having to spend more than an hour in a giant grocery store is, quite frankly, a turnoff.

That's the feeling I had the first time I walked a Loblaws superstore. Yes, the store offered more items (pillows, jeans) so in a sense it was giving me a one-stop shopping experience. But most days I don't need new bedding or clothes. So rather than appreciate the convenience factor I was miffed that Loblaws wasn't respecting my time.

But I think there's also a lesson to be learned from those songs on the radio. Just like the length of a Top 40 hit, people have a pretty good idea of how long they think doing the weekly grocery shopping should take. If a store is too large, and they are wandering the aisles too long, they get annoyed.

It's going to be fascinating to see if Loblaws in particular cuts the size of its next generation of grocery stores. Either way, the most successful grocery store formats in the future will meet two key customer requirements: they won't be so large that people feel their time is being wasted. But they'll have to be more efficiently laid out because shoppers will demand a deeper range of products and variety.

In other words, customers will want to get in and out quickly, but also do it in a one-stop shop.

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