Deconstructing Waitrose (well, their store layout)

Posted 13 April, 2011 Anthony Tan (staring at yet another render. But still loving it for some reason..)

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After a brief desktop review of Waitrose Raynes Park's floorplan layout, it does appear as if the store is built with some subtle tweaks to try ensure you get exposure to all their stock. It's quite cleverly done, but I suspect, it's not unique to them. Makes for an interesting few hours of analysis however...

I was out yesterday evening for a pint of milk and and I thought I'd pop into the newly opened Raynes Park Waitrose.. ye gods, they've effectively gone nuclear in the local retail game. Previously the biggest store was the small Co-op with a few offies in the area. We're looking at say, 10-20% size/stock differentials there? There's also two bakeries (one of them being a Greggs).

Waitrose is bigger than all of them - put together.

I can't help but wonder what this will do to the businesses in the area, and how the small shops are planning to deal with it.. they can't all lengthen trading hours to compete... but anyway, that's a discussion for another time. This particular note is only to do with Waitrose and its store layout - I picked up a floorplan while I got some milk and flour and being the odd creature I am, thought i'd do a basic analysis.

First, here's the base floorplan. Had I planned better, I would've scanned it in before I drew the arrows and made it all scratchy...

(there's a high-res version at the end for you to grab)

Getting in, and getting out

Okay, first things, entry and exit. Entrance A leads to the main carpark area, and is likely to be the trolley zone, and entrance B is the handbasket zone which drains to the street frontage (there's no provision for trolleys here). Exits are through the same pathways, but because of the checkout placement, Entrance A will also be the primary exit point. This would tend to push people from both entrances up to the bakery section where both streams of traffic will merge and continue on, going in any other direction would be counter-flow and while there aren't any signs? People tend to follow traffic flows.

Special case - Food for Now

The Food for Now section is an interesting diversion from this. For a class of visitor that just wants to grab a bite to eat, they have a small cafe-ish section set up and easily accessible. Even in this case, there's consideration given to encouraging you to sit down (the cafe-style zoning), I suspect to try encourage you to eat something more than a quick snack sandwich. Additionally, note the placement of the Food to Go area - it's shielded by the bakery and the fruit and veg. You need to be familiar with this store to realise that the Food for Now section isn't your only option, but that choice injects you into the standard foot traffic flow, and past more shelfspace.

The backbone route

So far all indications are that they want to take you from the entrance, push you all the way to the back as soon as they can and then draw you to the left - there's pretty much no other effective route due to physical blockages. What this will then expose you to is the all the fruit & vegetables you walked in through, any snacking products, the bakery, the well-staffed deli area (where they'd be mad not to have samples for shoppers), and all their chilled and frozen foods (yellow/blue in this picture).

To stretch this loop out to the maximum extent milk is in the leftmost chiller. To get a simple pint of milk, the store design exposes you to pretty much all the perishable products in the process (this includes things like chilled convenience foods like pizza which can be awfully tempting).

At that point, it's possible you have all you need, and so there's a very easy path out at any of these points - probably to cater for someone who has gone in for milk, cheese, and some cold ham - all you do is turn down an aisle and walk down it. Importantly to note, while I think this is all designed, it's not forced. There aren't obvious barriers, just hints.

Physical blockages

This is as close to a restriction as you get. There are three interestingly placed items - the Customer Services desk, the Newspapers & Magazine stand, and the Flowers & Plants stand. These objects set up visual clutter for those entering and guide them down the primary aisle. For anyone looking down from the back of the store thinking of leaving? They present minor obstacles that suggest you should go another way.

The Customer Services desk in particular stops people from taking an obvious route down the front of the store to get to the grocery or the checkouts, and is helpful in reinforcing that funnel to the back.

The grocery section

This area itself works like a mini-supermarket. There's a single defined entry point at the top reinforced by the backbone path of the fresh foods section, and a well defined exit (bottom) that develops because of the natural pull of the checkout area.

Much like in the fresh section, consideration is given to take you as far as possible into the store - eggs are at the back corner, along with staples like rice, flour, pasta. Once there, it's hard to go back the way you came because of the weight of traffic behind you. Even when I was there, it only took about 3mins (as I was working out which flour was the strongest) for a non-trivial trolley jam to develop making the path along the far left wall much more desireale. The visual shielding of the combined grocery/frozen food unit meant helped reinforce the sensation I should continue walking til nearly the end, at which point you can spot clear space and a definite path out.

Beer and wine

Special note on this area (which is where you're naturally pulled if you walk down the aisles on the far left), it's the only place in the store where there's a self-contained loop. There's a way in, a way out and two central units you can walk around. I'm sure this is by design because I saw half a dozen people (me included...) walking around juggling between this variety of wine, or that.. It supports the usual loitering behaviour I've seen when choosing alcohols, and by taking this out to a self-contained area, prevents traffic clog.

Impacts on a typical shop?

I define a typical shop as follows: bread, milk, some vegetables, pasta/rice/beans, tea, and meat. To get all that you're taken down two chilled aisles (for your meat and milk), and dumped in the back corner after you've picked up rice. Once there, as a minimum to get out you will need to wander down past most of their grocery product. The two major areas you won't hit are the beer/wine area and household products. Of course, if you're picking up toothpaste, or a soft drink, or a beer? That extends your walk to cover the entire area.

General concluding thoughts

It's not as Machiavellian an experience as it sounds based on this analysis. The foorplan layout lacks scale so it's hard to tell how congested some of those corridors are (it's not drawn perfectly from what I can tell), but it does give you an idea of what supermarket design is up to. It doesn't seem like much initially, pricing/stock would seem to be more important considerations, but for that to have any impact? You need to get eyeballs on stock, and this gentle hinting biases things in favour of greater stock exposure. I'm pretty sure most supermarkets adopt similar methodologies (Ikea is pretty overt with the arrows for example).

Comments, thoughts, questions? Let me know, I'd be curious to see what your thoughts are...

A night of type (April Font Night @the Design Museum)
Getting Typing of The Dead to work in Vista/Win7

Analysis based on

a desktop review of the floorplan you can see (higher resolution version) and a walk around to pick up the following:

  • 2 pints milk
  • 2 bottles of Fentimans Cola (they do the best drinks, as good as the ones I brew. Nay, better!)
  • Pkt brown rice
  • Brick o'yeast
  • 1.5kg strong wholemeal flour
  • Ground british beef
  • pack of tomatoes.

For a shop like that, the only area I didn't need to cover was the household aisles (but I had a look anyway)

If you're in the area?

The offie nearest to the train station generally has the cheapest cider by about 50p vs the Coop (if you buy a six-pack) last time I checked, and they've got fresh rosemary sprigs out the back if you're doing a roast lamb.

Theo's down the road is however, open at all hours, and has a lot more random stuff, like rulers and plungers.