The branch nearest Morrisons’ Bradford head office has had a makeover and offers a guide to the grocer’s current thinking.

Staff at the large branch of Morrisons in the Thornbury area of Bradford are probably on their best behaviour most of the time.

The store is considerably less than a mile from the head office, meaning that at lunchtime, it is likely to be swarming with buyers, operations managers, IT folk and all the rest of the cadre that have an interest in making things work at Morrisons.

Its location also means that, like others stores near head offices, it is something of a test bed for new layouts, technologies and design – and what works here will probably, in a modified form, make an appearance elsewhere in the estate.

An important store in the Morrisons scheme of things therefore and one that has recently undergone a major makeover, taking in everything from the fresh fruit and veg department to the cash desks at the end of the in-store journey.

Difference within

From the outside, this one looks like many others with its faux bell tower and clock in a style that some refer to as ‘vernacular architecture’.

Step into the atrium from the surrounding car park and the first thing to be observed are Amazon lockers.

“Putting web-ordered merchandise at the entrance gets the in-store online side of things out of the way from the outset, and the decision to locate them here is a sharp contrast with what is done by others in the sector”

Putting web-ordered merchandise at the entrance gets the in-store online side of things out of the way from the outset, and the decision to locate them here is a sharp contrast with what is done by others in the sector.

Head further inside and things are as expected, with food-to-go at the front and then straight into fruit and veg.

Morrisons appears to have torn a page out of the Whole Foods Market visual merchandising manual when putting together this area (although the filling-up operation seemed to have stalled somewhat when I visited), with a high, open-front chiller unit clad with panels made to look like aged wooden planks. Unlike the US grocer however, the produce here is all bagged.

Low units with a keen eye on ’per portion’ prices fill the mid-shop, and to the left the trademark Market Street kicks off along the perimeter with a fishmonger stall.

In total, display standards are generally higher than in other branches. The oven fresh counter on the perimeter at the rear has a soothing grey strip above and works well next to the deli counter.

Beer and bedding

Other noteworthy elements include the halal counter, the cake shop, which uses pink brick wallpaper to draw attention to itself, and a long line of freezers containing ‘chips & potatoes’, the sheer number of which must attest to local dietary preferences.

Otherwise, layout and display are much as might be anticipated when visiting a price-conscious supermarket. It was quite hard to work out the thought process at play in the cooking and homewares aisle, which had multipacks of beer in the middle: beer and pillows are not natural bedfellows.

That said, this is a pretty good grocers, and when shoppers make it to the checkout a new system lets them pack at their own speed by having a desk that can serve two shoppers at the same time, along with enhanced lighting overhead.

Morrisons has also opted for some card-only self-scan checkouts, as well as standard self-scan checkouts – giving shoppers a range of options, depending on how they want to be served.

Evolution not revolution

As a sector, grocery retail is absolutely about evolution rather than revolution.

Shoppers have a tendency to be unforgiving when confronted by completely new layouts and ways of getting in and out of the door, so what is on view in Thornbury is certainly different but not a complete reinvention of the Morrisons’ modus operandi.

But it is a move forward and one that points towards an organisation that has conducted a visual audit of its stores and methods of processing customers and tried to improve them.

Whether it will be a template for future stores will depend largely on the views of the head office crew as they scrutinise how theory is working in practice during their lunch breaks.

On the basis of what’s on view, however, Morrisons looks to be on an upward curve in spite of market predations about the hard discounters.

The most noteworthy changes at Thornbury Morrisons

  • Space has been made an essential part of the layout
  • The Market Street elements have been tailored for the location
  • Online shoppers are catered for from the moment they enter the shop
  • The checkouts seem to speed up the completion of the in-store shopping journey
  • Navigation is very straightforward, although product adjacencies may require some adjustment