What Retailers Can Learn From Aldi

The facade is modern and simple; devoid of plants and random sale items.

The facade is modern and simple; devoid of plants and random sale items.

While working on a research project I figured I finally had a reason to stop in and check out our relatively new local Aldi store. For whatever reason I hadn’t found the time to stop previously, despite the fact I live and breathe retail as a designer and consumer. I will say, I was pleasantly surprised and found the store to not be quite what I expected. While I only had time to do a cursory walk though, I came away with a strong positive impression and noticed several things Aldi does well.

Fixture Free Merchandising

As a designer I always (half heatedly) joked that consumers would buy anything from a card board box cut open on the floor if the price was right. Turns out my first impression as I stepped through the doors of Aldi was of exactly that. Wide aisles are flanked by products essentially sitting in the boxes they were shipped in. A warehouse store for food. While this form of merchandising may be how they do retail in Europe (Aldi is a German based company), it’s not as common on this side of the Atlantic. And those that try over here usually provide a middling shopping experience at best. In Aldi I observed some fixed and wheeled racks, and even climate controlled cases, but it was not unusual to see product neatly organized on the floor or by the unadorned checkout. The look screams efficiency, good prices on products and no-frills.

I make my living designing retail displays, fixtures and environments and I’m telling you: you don’t always need it.

This speaks to one of my fundamental goals as a designer: don’t design, and subsequently produce, displays and fixtures unless you need them. Far too often salesmen and marketers focus on displays and fixtures to salvage products and brands. I make my money by designing retail displays, fixtures and environments and I’m telling you, you don’t always need it. Ask yourself, would people purchase my product if I just laid it out in a cardboard box on the floor? What is my brand, and how do I want guests to experience it? How do my displays and fixtures complete or enhance the experience? While just throwing stuff on the floor is an extreme example, don’t be afraid to really question what you do and don’t need to win at retail. Start with your brand, product, packaging and then yes if you need to finish the deal, take a look at the display.

Product is simply placed in PDQ's on wheeled metal racks. It doesn't get more simple than this.

Product is simply placed in PDQ’s on wheeled metal racks. It doesn’t get more simple than this.

The lack of gondolas makes for great sight lines and a straightforward shopping experience.

The lack of gondolas makes for great sight lines and a straightforward shopping experience.

Simple Signage

The simple, less is more, European-inspired theme carries over to the signage throughout the store, inside and out. A simple multi-level metal C-channel holds product information and pricing in quick to read black and yellow print. Unobtrusive right angle flags (RAF’s) provide category information.

As subtle as the aisle signage is, the large format graphics above the freezer and dairy cases command attention in a clear manner. Giant letters communicate the brand message to guests, and large photos of produce delight. The images and copy can be seen from anywhere in the store. It’s one of the first things guests notice when they walk in the door. Ultimately if you don’t know what to do from a retail environment standpoint then fall back on large format graphics with great art, copy or photography. You really cannot go wrong.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The Aldi brand message is readily communicated with large format graphics and copy above climate controlled cases.

The Aldi brand message is readily communicated with large format graphics and copy above climate controlled cases.

Small Footprint

Aldi is a really small store, especially for being a grocer. I’m not sure there is much depth of product offering, but that probably doesn’t matter to the consumers who visit time and time again. I could easily see every corner of the store from the entrance. Overall it is an open and airy feel that you never get in other grocery stores. The aisles are wide and very orderly. Despite the store’s small size, I never felt cramped walking along. Most stores with that small a footprint would feel compelled to jam as much product (signs, departments, fixtures, etc.) in the store to ruin the experience. Aldi understands why it exists.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

The produce aisle features attractive LED down lighting.

Brand

Which leads to my last point, Aldi knows their brand and it plays out in all the details from parking lot to check out. This is the true test of a good retailer. “Simply Smarter Shopping” defines the Aldi brand and experience. Am I going there for everything? Probably not, but what I do buy there will be, presumably, at a good price and decent quality without any fuss.

While the feel is decidedly warehouse there’s nothing overtly cheap. Packaging art does all of the heavy lifting which saves a lot of money. This saves cost by eliminating the need to produce a lot of random signage and displays; these lead to clutter which in turn undermines their existence in the first place. Aldi breaks that cycle which allows it to stay on brand and reduce expenses.

I’m not the only one who’s impressed. The retailer has been picking up good press both here and on the other side of the pond. I for one was skeptical, or at the very least unsure, but I was delighted to see what a great looking, and functioning store it is. I will gladly use these, and other examples of best practices I discovered at Aldi, in the future. It would be worth your while to consider doing the same.

-Chris

No frills check lanes make for a quick check out experience.

No frills check lanes make for a quick check out experience.

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