Saving the Center Store — Inertia Is the Enemy

By Published On: December 31, 2021

Join Harold Lloyd for “Saving the Center Store” at Supermarket Sense 2016, Sept. 21-22 in Conyers, Georgia.

The supermarket center store is stuck in a time warp, and that’s especially dangerous in today’s food retail environment.

We’re going up against online shopping that’s fast and entertaining, and products in the center store are particularly vulnerable to online competition. Yet, those long, boring, rectangular aisles haven’t changed in decades.

At Supermarket Sense, happening just outside Atlanta on Sept. 21-22, I’ll lead a session on “Saving the Center Store” — diving into the issues and opportunities. Here’s high-level view of the problem: The center store still drives some of the strongest margins in the supermarket, but that won’t last if grocers don’t take a hard look at how to make those aisles as engaging and customer-centric as the store perimeter has become.

If you don’t believe me, just walk through the middle of your store and count the “dippers” — shoppers who leave their carts at the end of an aisle and run halfway down to grab what’s on their grocery list. It’s such an uninviting environment that they don’t even want to push their carts all the way down the aisle. That’s a serious blow to impulse buys.

Need more evidence that it’s time to act now to save the center store? Check out these statistics:

  • 70% of consumers’ purchase decisions are still made at the shelf, according to research firm Nielsen. So, if shoppers don’t go down the aisle, they won’t see that impulse product. And they won’t make the decision to buy it.
  • Online grocery sales in the U.S. grew 11% annually from 2011-2016, according to IBISWorld’s market research report. It’s now a $12 billion-a-year business.
  • Meanwhile, supermarket trip frequency has decreased by 19 trips a year, on average, during that same period, Nielsen says. Chances are that when shoppers do walk in the supermarket these days, they’re mostly sticking to the perimeter.

So, what can grocers do to combat the decline of the center store? Start by breaking the category management and shelf optimization cycles. Give up shelf space to creative, inviting merchandising. Put a cascade of bananas in the center of the cereal aisle. Give away coffee in the middle of the coffee aisle. Sacrifice four feet of slow-selling SKUs to help everything on the aisle sell faster.

Get people interested in going down your aisles. If they aren’t pushing their carts past your “optimized” shelves, they won’t buy your products. Take action now. It’s time to stop relying on the past to take your center store into the future.

Let’s talk more about how to save the center store at Supermarket Sense. I look forward to seeing you there.