Followers on Twitter or visitors to this blog might be forgiven for believing that I spend most of my time being sarcastic about supermarkets, shovelling vast quantities of hamburgers down my throat and watching endless amounts of semi-professional football. On the whole, they would be correct.
However, while the football and burger components are mere aspects of my high octane hedonistic lifestyle, the ‘being sarcastic about supermarkets’ angle is a by-product of spending an obscene amount of time in stores around the world. Much of this endeavour is undertaken in order to help our supplier clients better understand particular retail customers or channels, while a fair amount of thought recently has also been going into trying to imagine what the successful supermarket of the future (i.e. ten years out) will look like.
For some folk, any sort of ‘store of the future’ analysis immediately plummets into some sort of spurious sci-fi mishmash. Shoppers will be receiving personalised pricing through their wearable technologies. Drones will hover overhead, catapulting Haribo directly into the mouths of waiting children. Adults, meanwhile, will be over there, in the corner, 3D printing Cornish pasties.
While technology, some of it mightily impressive, will augment the shopping experience, winning in the future as a supermarket in Europe will arguably revolve around some slightly more mundane yet essential attributes:
- Selling to the urban consumer (including real estate adaptability)
- Understanding consumption occasions and shopper missions, and then designing stores and assortments around them
- Providing retail theatre and interactivity (this is food and drink which, believe it or not, has visual appeal, taste and smell and is there to be enjoyed)
- Winning in fresh
- Catering to a shopper base with an increasing diversity of origin and faith
- Providing values alongside value
- Merchandising to create meaningful adjacencies and convenience
- Delivering authenticity and provenance
- Creating a localised assortment with personalised service
- Carrying a suitable breadth and depth of range, governed by the needs of the shopper rather than the KPIs of the buyer
- A moderate approach to non-food
- Appropriate pricing in light of the quality and service levels
- Servicing polarised affluence through tiered private label
As luck would have it, I recently got to visit a rather splendid supermarket that ticks most, if not all, of these boxes.
When looking for retail excellence, a former post office opposite Helsinki railway station might not be the most obvious place to look, but it is here – at K-supermarket Postitalo – that retail excellence you will find. I mentioned real estate adaptability above, as it really has become a prerequisite in this era of ongoing urbanisation. As Tesco has discovered, converting loads of pubs into Express outlets, winning with the urban shopper requires being able to flex a store concept into a less than ideal size and shape of box.
This K-supermarket, which opened in May 2014, is located in what was the Postitalo, a major city centre post office. This is clearly a double-edged sword. While this means that the store is in an excellent high-footfall location, it also meant that Kesko’s store design team were faced with some not inconsiderable challenges in adapting the concept to some tricky legacy architecture.
Due to its location (nearby several major transport hubs), the vast majority of shoppers visit the store on foot. Opening hours reflect the ‘convenience’ nature of the store, with the 2,000 sq. m. unit trading from 07.00 to 22.00 Monday to Saturday and 10.00 to 22.00 on Sundays. The type of shopper and shopper missions that the store is there to serve are well evidenced by the stores trading patterns: peaks in sales in the early morning, at lunchtime and in the evening. The heavy traffic from workers and students on their way home means that 50% of sales are generated after 16.00.
Within the store itself, there are plenty of tangible acknowledgements that shoppers are there for a great many different reasons and that they need to be merchandised to in different ways (and with different things, in different places). Above all, this store succeeds because it also has a sense of fun, a sense of humour and a very real sense of engagement.
Just outside the entrance to the store proper is a rather charming World Kitchen counter, offering an extensive array of chilled drinks and foods such as fruit and sushi. Coffee and hot food (prepared onsite) is also available, with shoppers able to consume food in the store in nearby seating areas. Clearly, this would have been world class if it sold burgers, but instead I enjoyed a very well cooked noodle dish that represented excellent value for money. Good work.
The food-for-now and food-for-later capabilities were obviously centred around the entrance to the outlet. The store’s salad bar (replenished by two colleagues at peak times) is the busiest in the chain and is accompanied by a ‘Takeaway’ cabinet that features a strong selection of chilled sandwiches, salad, convenience food and drinks. In an ideal world, I sense that the store would have a dedicated checkout or two for this area. Instead, given the space limitations, the retailer has created an endearing compromise: navigation that signposts a short-cut to the checkouts for food-to-go shoppers.
Alongside produce is a very stylish seasonal display area, enabling the retailer to showcase the freshest seasonal products. The main produce section itself is an utter joy, full of thoughtfulness and visual stimuli. There is plenty of educational and inspirational signage from both the retailer and its suppliers. In fresh herbs, for example, a supplier has provided Kesko with this signage that neatly highlights the attributes of the herbs on display. This is supplemented by Kesko’s own signage that makes recipe recommendations and directs shoppers to its website for further info. The produce range has significant breadth & depth, encompassing locally-sourced and imported items. More cosmopolitan tastes are catered for through a decent selection of more exotic fruit and vegetables.
Again, due to the physical constraints of running a supermarket in a former post office, the store’s bakery is, unusually, located in the centre of the shop-floor. Handsome display cases ensure that it is a real highlight, together with all of the other sensory delights that a bakery counter brings with it.
The counters are just fantastic. The cheese counter offers great variety and is packed with product info, recipe suggestions and cross-merchandising. The meat counter enables shoppers to buy meat to their exact specifications, augmented by digital screens that provide ideas and inspiration. The fish counter takes things to a whole new level, with an already impressive assortment enhanced by the store’s own onsite smoker that transforms regular fish into an amazing selection of smoked delicacies.
Other highlights of the store included a good selection of food gifting, Angry Birds and Moomins (YES!) merchandise, catering to the high level of tourist footfall through the store. The beer range was an undeniable triumph, featuring a breath-taking selection of local and imported lines. In all honesty, the range of British beers in the store would embarrass the average UK supermarket.
Navigation was handled very well indeed. Copious, yet stylish, signage meant that broad departments and narrower categories and sub-categories were fairly easy to find. Mindful of the very mixed shopper base coming to the store, English is (thankfully!) used alongside the two national languages of Finnish and Swedish.
Kesko’s private label seems to have been dialled down a bit since my last visit to Finland (which, in fairness, was probably about 15 years ago). The mainstream Pirkka range did the job perfectly as the alternative to brands, while Euroshopper performed its functional role as the economy alternative. The premium range was differentiated purely through the use of a black and silver colour scheme. It lost a bit of cut-through as a result, and I therefore found the hierarchy a little muddled. I sense that there might well be a bit of PL tweaking occurring at the corporate level, so I won’t be too critical, but there remains work to be done here.
This minor criticism should not take the gloss off what is a fundamentally excellent proposition and experience: I was highly impressed with this store concept. It combines a great offer for shoppers looking to complete a full trolley shop together with services and product ranges that cater well for food-for-now and food-for-later shopper missions. The store’s credentials in foodservice, service counters, produce and general grocery are well presented and the store design is excellent given the physical limitations created by occupying a legacy building. Top drawer.
Range: 9 (bonus point for beer, Moomins and smoked fish)
Store design: 9
Customer service: 8
Private label: 7
Total score: 41/50