Big Retailers Push to be Small

Big retail Small

Of the 15 new stores Target plans to open in 2015, the majority will be the smaller format TargetExpress and CityTarget stores. Meanwhile, Walmart, Office Depot and Best Buy are also adding smaller format stores to their fleets.

This makes a lot of sense for retailers that have maxed out their suburban presence and are looking to urban areas to add stores. Expanding into underserved markets is a business basic, even if those opportunities can seem few and far between.

But the challenges of being small are not small. Unlike Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, which can build stores within throwing distances of current locations without cannibalization, these larger retailers face a different “zero sum” marketplace. More locations do not translate to more consumption—or sales.

Sales volume must be obtained from other sources, which can include e-commerce sites, same-day delivery services and even entrenched local retailers.

What to sell

The challenge with smaller stores is getting both the breadth and the depth of the merchandise assortments right. A big-box store’s reason for being is to be a one-stop shop for everything in the category, the classic “category killer”—or in Walmart’s case, a super-center providing virtually everything in abundance.

Downsizing assortments and eliminating categories is messing with the recipe. And it is not a matter of proportionately reducing everything to fit. There is an interdependency of merchandise that can make or break the concept, and some categories that need space because of fast inventory turn can crowd out slower turning but essential categories. Having enough bottled water or printer cartridges can mean too little frozen food or backpacks. The trade-offs can ruin the store’s overall appeal.

Assortment is not the only challenge. There is also the constraint of transportation. The number and size of items a shopper in an urban context will buy are impacted by how much they can carry. Purchases are smaller but visits are more frequent. More footfall is required to see similar sales per square foot performance, which is a dynamic many retailers are not used to managing and can take some experimentation to master.

The brand is a mixed blessing

Often these smaller stores betray the brand expectations, or create new store types that shoppers have difficulty assimilating into their shopping repertoire. Retailers like Aldi and Trader Joe’s, who are inherently smaller, have unique, differentiated propositions and products that shoppers value and know how to fit into their lifestyles. A small Best Buy, however, can be confusing. Is it a great place to shop for a big screen TV, or a convenience store for cables?

For the big stores that want to re-scale to smaller stores, opening under the banner of their larger namesake is a blessing and a curse. While they do offer familiarity and tap into the broader promotion and marketing engine, the risk is over-promising and under-delivering. Communicating the nuance of store size and store promise is a brand naming architecture challenge, with names like “express” or “neighborhood” that are often lost on shoppers in this short-attention-span world.

Tesco’s failed small-format Fresh & Easy experiment in the US is a great example of the challenges faced by even the best retailers. Creating retail concepts derivative of the parent can be a big risk but is a necessity, especially considering the retail saturation in suburbia.

A requirement, however, is starting from scratch with the store idea for the urban environment vs. adjusting the existing recipe. In the end, the best-situated retailers are the drug chains that already reside in the urban landscape. Urban-friendly, innovative stores like Walgreen’s and CVS may never carry big screen TVs, but they will certainly continue to update themselves over time and prove to be formidable competition to urban invaders.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.


Learning From Orlando: The Center Store Re-imagined

Disney World

Disney World

Attempts to invigorate the “center store”… that wasteland in the grocery and Supercenter… seem to be in limbo. A few years ago it was the hot topic at retail conferences and trade shows, but it looks like the topics of omni-channel and mobile/digital are now stealing the show.

But the truth is that the center store remains an automatic, list driven experience that doesn’t inspire or excite us. The perimeter of the grocery is still the sensorial star. Mobile coupons, a smattering of department reinventions ala P&G, Kimberly Clark, and Purina that appear to be incongruent, and the occasional curved fixture are cries in the dark. Beyond that, the center store is nothing but gondola runs ad nauseum.

Understandably the perimeter of the supermarket has received the most attention and investment. Grocers saw their expertise in “fresh” as a strategic advantage, and lever, over the Walmart Supercenter onslaught. But the playing field has become more equal now, 20 years later. The center of the store is still untapped potential.

What if? What if the center store was an experience and not a task? I want to take a few moments to jump-start the topic. And I want to be a bit unorthodox. So, let’s talk about how we can learn from Orlando Florida.

In the 1940’s, Orlando was a swampy, humid town in the relative center of a state already known as a tourist destination. The only thing notable about Orlando was that it had an Army base. That was probably the only reason to visit Orlando.

Then, all the attention in Florida was fixated on the coastline. The great beaches, sun and surf fueled the investments in Miami, Daytona, Naples. These were the produce departments, delis, and bakeries of the state. They are sexy. The center of the state was just the leftover land in between the coasts. But look at Orlando today? There are more direct flights to Orlando from points elsewhere in the US than any other city in Florida and is annually the most visited American city.

The reason is vision and investment. Walt Disney had created Disneyland in southern California in 1955. He had an even grander vision for an eastern version that would be closer to the majority of the American population, but coastal property was expensive. The center of the state was economically irrelevant, so it was cheap. But it had traffic and infrastructure. Disney World opened in Orlando in 1971, and since has been a magnet for other development, including Universal Theme Park. The place attracts people, and the people spend.

Orlando is a great analogy for what could happen to the center store with vision and investment. With today’s additional pressure for retailers to stay relevant in the face of Amazon same-day delivery, the center store must create value beyond inventory holding power. Of course it needs to be easy to shop for shoppers on a mission, but with 50,000 items and only 500 in the average household, couldn’t space be re-imagined? What if it wasn’t a sea of gondola shelving, but a collection of themed spaces that flowed into each other, like the “worlds” at Disney? What if you could learn about how the products can fit into your needs best or solve a problem versus check off a list?

With breakthroughs in mobile technology, in-store networks, and especially mobile payment, the grocery may not even need a single entry/exit anymore to funnel shoppers through the checkouts. What could this do for convenience that could shake up the entire center store layout?

Let’s see what we can learn from Orlando as the evolving future of retail demands fresh thinking. The store could be the best of both, with great beaches AND a fun exciting destination in the center, creating a destination experience that no eCommerce retailer could match.

Would You Buy Crackers From This Owl?

Kroger's new entry price-point brand

Kroger’s new entry price-point brand

Have you heard this one? Knock-knock. Who’s there? Moo. Moo wh…INTERRUPTING COW! Well meet Kroger’s new interrupting owl.

In June Kroger launched 3 new private label brands to replace their aging “Value” brand for entry price-point products. The move was more than a facelift; it was a complete re-imagining of the branding strategy for this tier of products. It marks a big shift in the role of the Kroger name in the mix of merchandise by excluding their logo altogether. Two of the new brands are certainly quirky- an owl whispering “P$$T” for food items, and “Check this out” for non-foods. There is also a fresh food solution that used to scream “Value” in red and blue but is now tastefully presented as Heritage Farms. It is the talking owl, however, that is worth examining.

This “talking owl” approach reflects a new consumer proposition around savings grown out of the Great Recession; saving is fashionable, saving is fun, savings are gathered not hunted. (It also shows some bravery on the part of Kroger to embrace an unorthodox new creative direction.)

The past solution utilized the store’s logo as an endorsement and the big Value message was code for “cheap”. I can see the up side of removing the store name from these entry price-point products for Kroger. It’s a potential drag on quality associations when the chain is looking to associate its logo with national brand competing products elsewhere on the shelf. It is also tough for Kroger generally since they go to market under so many different banners (Ralph’s in California, Fred Meyer in the northwest, etc.) Removing their name neutralizes the products across their system.

What is breakthrough about the solution is that the owl character directly engages the shopper in the store. Additionally the brand communicates something positive about the shopper’s decision once at home versus being just a graphic announcement of low price. The packaging, by actually “speaking”, becomes a part of the store experience itself as shoppers scan the shelves. The owl and provocatively bouncy type interrupt with a proposition that is almost anti-brand. Once in the home pantry, it then reinforces that Mom is smart, not a mere penny-pincher.

Here the owl as a spoke-species is the wise purveyor of intelligent choices. In this economy of “good enough” he intervenes in the aisle and alerts shoppers with a direct message; “Psst, check this out…”

Private label merchandise is a powerful means for retailers to manage margin and retain customers with proprietary offerings. Here the new Kroger program creatively becomes part of the store experience itself. The hard part is the art of managing the SKU’s so that they do not trade down shoppers from their higher priced options, but entice them into categories they are buying at dollar stores or avoiding all together.

After a few hundred trips I may get tired of the owl or he may start to lose his interrupting power, but hey, he may start saying other creative and relevant things and become a valuable new brand asset. Knock knock. Who’s there? A great new approach to connecting private label with the store experience.

Honoring the Toaster: The Ultimate Customer Experience Mentor

The humble but indispensable toaster

The humble but indispensable toaster

Being a consumer today is a lot harder than ever. How we do the things we need to do every day is changing at a dizzying pace. Simply interacting with all our devices, our car stereos, the ATM, stores, and even healthcare providers require us to learn and relearn the means by which we get the results we want. This learning requires an investment in time and energy, usually only to have an “upgrade” result in us having to start nearly from scratch. Usually the upgrades have the motive of simplification and/or added functions, but many seem to change for the sake of change… except the toaster.

When is the last time that you needed to relearn how to use a toaster? As an appliance, toasters are perfect in their functional transparency and clarity of purpose. They are comically simple. In fact, we take these wonders of the industrial age for granted.

When I think about approaching a customer experience challenge, I think about how I would “toasterize” it. Toasterizing requires some creative thinking in metaphors, but it can uncover what is providing a great experience versus what is superfluous and driving customers crazy.

Here are the reasons why I believe a toaster represents the ideal experience.

  1. It manages expectations. It says what it is and does what it says. An orange is orange, a fly flies, and a toaster toasts. Enough said.
  1. It cannot be easily substituted. If you don’t have a toaster, you probably will forego toast. Toaster ovens are overkill.
  1. The operation is intuitive. I think I was only shown how to operate a toaster once in my life and I did not have to be shown again.
  1. The inner workings are not mysterious. You can actually see the thing doing its job. The little wires inside get hot and look hot, and the bread turns to toast in front of your eyes.
  1. The process is sensorial. You can actually tell the moment the bread turns into toast by the toasty smell.
  1. The user settings are direct. Toast the bread longer for dark (or burnt) toast, shorter for light toast. If the toast is too light you can push it down for more time. If you burn it its your fault.
  1. The time it takes to do the job is consistent and reasonable. The sub-conscious knowledge of how long the toaster takes allows you to multi-task effectively.
  1. It does one thing and is not insecure about it. The toaster is one of the elite appliances that can set out on the counter full time, so it has a big ego I’m sure.

The toaster’s more modern cousin, the microwave, is indispensible but a horrible experience that is tolerated versus enjoyed. (Bring to mind any service providers you may have?). How does it work? What do the frozen dinner’s instructions require from me? Will this food now burn me when I open it or eat it? Add your other complaints here… Would you rather toast that dinner if it only took 2 minutes?

Improvements on the toaster are barely non-existent. Sure there are some fashion concessions, and I have seen one that burns a Hello Kitty face on the toast, but the inner workings are the same. The toaster has reached appliance nirvana.

For such a humble gadget, the toaster is a master at delivering what we want from it, and therefore has become indispensable. It delivers great value and we give it a place in our collection of must-have objects. I find that the toaster test is a great way to casually evaluate your experience on the 8 points above. Ultimately the toaster is simple and intuitive and a great experience role-model. So the question is… is your customer experience a toaster or a microwave?

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.

Brand Experience versus Customer Experience: Twins Separated at Birth?

Natural Happy Girls


Is there a difference between Brand Experience and Customer Experience? The answer makes me think of stories about identical twins separated at birth and reunited many years later. Amazingly many have the same hair styles, similar jobs, and they like the same flavors of ice cream even though they never met. Why? Because they share the same DNA, which is more powerful than circumstance or environment.


BX…CX… What’s in a name?  In business today there is a lot of energy put toward managing either Brand Experience or Customer Experience. Based on my involvement with both I want to set the record straight on the key differences. Like identical twins they share the same DNA therefore they look and act similarly. With twins their differences are influenced by the families that raised them and may result from having different cultures and customs. Likewise Brand and Customer Experiences have different upbringing but their common DNA makes them overwhelmingly similar.

Regardless of nomenclature, experience management and innovation is strategically important to growth. What drives the difference between BX and CX are three things:

1. The Brand building versus customer service bias of the organization

2. How the differentiating and value adding aspects of the experience are inspired

3. How success of the experience is measured and tracked.

The initial difference is cultural bias. If the organization has a Brand driven culture, the bias is toward a Brand Experience mindset. If the organization has a customer service driven culture, the bias is toward a Customer Experience mindset. “Brand” is a complex idea that many organizations embrace but is not often codified, so in the absence of a clear Brand idea and proposition, strong customer-centric values are a fine substitute. Here either bias has a noble purpose. My client experience bears out that a great experience design can result from Brand or customer service scenarios.


Design inspiration comes next. Both BX and CX development processes involve journey mapping and seek to define touch-points and create value-adding and differentiating experiences. Both must bridge the digital and physical seamlessly, address a variety of segments, and accommodate different need states and occasions. They also seek to address problem resolution as a key opportunity to shine. Their DNA is the same. The difference is in inspiration. Brand Experiences look to actively and passively embed Brand-building into the experience whereas Customer Experiences do not have the same primary motive.

Brand-centric organizations have defined Brand attributes and an activation strategy (which should be based on data and customer insights). The experience design is an opportunity to leverage the power of the Brand strategy and build positive equity on specific attributes as intentional additions to the customer experience. This Brand building may not pay dividends immediately, but it is a longer-term investment that synchronizes with Brand messages in advertising and other Brand communications to build equity and brand salience. Alternatively, in the absence of a defined and pervasive Brand, Customer Experiences are focused more on delighting customers in the here and now. They must have core-tenants that are linked to strong customer-centric values. These have the net effect of a Brand, but they are not directly inspired by a defined Brand idea. It’s like getting to your destination using a map or by familiar landmarks. The important thing is that you arrived.


Success criteria is the ultimate differentiator of BX versus CX.  Brand Experience adds Brand-derived attribute tracking to the measurement. It all ladders up to the need to correlate attribute performance to business performance and see the effect over time on Brand sentiment. Ultimately both Customer Experience and Brand Experience measurement have “macro” metrics that inform Brand sentiment… like net promoter scores, defection rates, etc., but Customer Experience measurement may not include (or they just “throw in”) Brand related measures.


So the wrap-up is this: if you are asked to manage or execute an experience innovation initiative, don’t get hung up on semantics because the core DNA is the same. All Brand Experiences are inherently Customer Experiences, and all Customer Experiences result in a Brand Experience by default. Both put the customer at the center with insights and empathy as they seek to create proprietary experiences that foster enduring relationships versus mere transactions. The important thing is to be consistent or else the confusion could bog your organization down.

Experience Inflation: Retail’s Fresh Challenge

Retail expectations are inflating

Retail expectations are inflating


Experience inflation? Hop from a 2004 car into a 2014 model and you will get what I mean. Driving a car is now a user experience that integrates your mobile devices as well as provides onboard technology that can help avoid collisions and keep you alert.  It is common now for car brands to exhibit at the Consumer Electronics Show and In 2012 Cadillac even touted their new ATS as “a tablet on wheels”. They dub their technology as “CUE”, for Cadillac User Experience. This focus on creating experiential value is not just for premium cars either. The new Ford Focus and Dodge Dart both offer touch screen “infotainment”, and Bluetooth smartphone integration as key selling features. Soon oil changes will probably come with software upgrades.


Applebee's table top tablets

Applebee’s table top tablets

Applebee’s and Chili’s have already rolled out touch-screen ordering and payment on their tables. Airlines, Hotels, Insurance companies, healthcare providers are all investing in understanding and innovating the customer experience to win in the market. Just like our cars in 2004, we don’t yet know what we are missing, but things are definitely coming that will transform these experiences and set a new bar. The challenge for retailers is that customer experience “thrills” are not insulated within business sectors. These escalating experiences cross over and inflate expectations for all interactions including our shopping.


Customer experience innovation is additive to all the things that have required attention before. Car companies still need sexy styling, great performance, and dependability to be competitive.  And experience is also comprehensive. The cars are just a piece of the equation. The dealer experience for sales and service is just as critical.


Retailers still need to be great merchants, great with operations and distribution, and have beautiful store designs that engage and delight us. But just like the new car with the conspicuous touch screen in the dash and the fancy start up screen, how do customer experience innovations manifest in a store? How do retailers project an upgraded or innovative customer experience that isn’t contained to a bricks and mortar remodel?


This is undoubtedly new territory and requires new thinking and creative passion. Store design now has an additional demand from business to solve a strategic imperative- stay one step ahead with customer experience. Retailers have been on the right path in using design to clarify their brand idea and unify their brand in an omnichannel world, but what is next beyond refining the idea of what a store has been?  The answer is to invent what the experience could be and be brave enough to deliver it.

Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth.