By: Farleigh Lichstein, Director, Education, FMI


As spring draws closer in Washington D.C., (cue visions of cherry blossoms), the promise of new possibilities is in the air, more COVID-19 vaccines are becoming available and the nation is headed in the right direction. As we dare to think of life post-pandemic, it makes me wonder how store design might be impacted in the years ahead.

According to our U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends research, shoppers cited a clean and safe environment as one of the top reasons grocery shoppers choose their primary store..  Living through COVID-19 has certainly emphasized the need for safety and changed the way consumers shop. It’s only natural to assume that consumers will continue to want a clean, safe environment when they do shop in-stores, while retaining the option to order groceries online.

There are a few key factors that I believe will play heavily into store development going forward:

1) Technology

We can expect to see more focus on ecommerce fulfillment in stores – which was already building pre-pandemic – including an acceleration of microfulfillment centers. Additionally, store parking lots may be retooled to allow for more pick-up options. Taking automation to the next level, Alert Innovation has envisioned an automated supermarket of the future that combines customer self-service for fresh goods, like produce and meat, with automated robot retrieval for everything else.

It’s also likely that frictionless checkout will pick up steam after the pandemic, as retailers look for ways to help shoppers avoid long lines and get in and out of their stores as quickly as possible. In a recent consumer survey conducted by market research firm Piplsay, 57% of respondents said they would like to see an Amazon Go or a similar tech-enabled store near them.

2) Flexibility

In the Grocery Dive article “5 Ways Supermarket Design Could Change in the Future,” Laura Gardner, a senior associate with MG2, pointed out the importance of flexibility during COVID-19 times. She envisions supermarkets using movable equipment to help stores tailor their layouts on the fly.

As I was speaking with Steve Duffy, senior VP of design at Cuhaci & Peterson, he noted that a lot of companies and developers are moving away from building new retail, in favor of repurposing existing retail footprints. Retrofitting existing retail spaces will certainly require more flexible thinking. He envisions that logistics will be a premier area for growth, as grocers consider a variety of fulfillment models for online orders.

3) Safety

The experts I spoke with maintain that safety — cleanliness of the environment and safety of customers and employees — will continue to be top of mind for food retail store design.

The jury is out on whether salad bars are destined to become a thing of the past, but even during the pandemic, retailers have found flexible ways to continue offering takeout foods in the safest way possible – by offering more prepackaged salads, meals and even bulk bin items. Some retailers even converted their salad bars into display cases for ready-made meals or experimented with new salad bar models. I expect to see equipment manufacturers rethink the size and look of display cases to help their retail partners accommodate new and innovative merchandising ideas.

We may also see a revival of outdoor selling, and possibly outdoor seating for in-store dining, as shoppers consider the importance – and safety – of fresh air.

4) Don’t Forget Fun!

With all the seriousness of the pandemic in the past year, store designers are eager to look for ways to keep grocery shopping fun. Duffy says he thinks grocers will strive to maintain their role as a place of gathering with a theatrical flair. Grocers might do so with a smaller footprint, as more of the shopping for routine items is covered by automation. Meanwhile, store associates will be freed from stocking duties and able to spend more time serving customers.

Trends that bring shoppers closer to their food, like in-store vertical farms, could also grow in popularity, ultimately making supermarkets a more interesting place to spend time.