As market share continues to be snatched from the ‘big four’, does the success of discount food retail spell the end of store design, or is it something else?

It’s increasingly fashionable to flaunt your discount credentials, particularly when it comes to food shopping. ‘Have you seen what they’ve got in Lidl/Aldi and soon, probably, Netto?’ Or have you noticed the ironic way that Lidl has produced the “Lidl Brown Bag”, as some refer to the recyclable shopping bag from the eponymous retailer – a clear reference to the iconic “Little Brown Bag” offered to shoppers visiting New York’s Bloomingdales department store.  

The fact of the matter is that value-led shopping is now smart shopping and we seem to be heading down the path set by German consumers aeons ago. And it is also equally the case that as we do so, store design, or what passes for it, takes a back seat. A Twitter follower this week implied that store design doesn’t matter one jot, as long as the price is right.

Maybe so, but where does this leave Waitrose, which has invested considerable time, energy and money into creating environments that we will feel at ease in when shopping? The same could be said for Sainsbury’s and – although they have come in for a pasting in some quarters – Tesco. Indeed, all of the ‘big four’ supermarkets seem to consider the way their stores look as important, which when you consider that collectively they still represent close to 75% of the market, must indicate that it counts for quite a lot.

The reality is probably that we’re quite prepared to compromise as far as our aesthetic sensibilities are concerned when shopping in a discount food retailer. But if this trend moves up the food chain, as it were, shoppers might feel inclined to look elsewhere. At a time when ‘grazing’ stores or ‘grab and go’ convenience formats are being trialled, the idea of one store format fitting all and being rolled out would not meet muster on the broadest retail canvas.

Shoppers want it all. They want low price. They want stores that look good and which will encourage them to try out new things and they may well want certain elements of grocery retailing to be a leisure activity. The truth is that that they can have all of this, but it’s unlikely that it will all be found under the one retail roof. There is still room for variety and low price will continue to make inroads on shopping habits, but this does not mean that alternatives are headed for hell in a shopping cart.