Thinking Beyond The Box: Modal Shopping And The Future Of Retail

This guest post comes from Rory Fegan, Senior Strategist with the agency Pearlfisher.

Thinking Beyond The Box: Modal Shopping And The Future Of Retail

We talked previously on My Private Brand about the importance of designing for brand not channel as retail becomes an evolving 360 experience. But, as a result of what we are now seeing in (particularly) CPG retail, we think that brands need to further redefine approach to match consumer motivation and embrace a more distinct split between online and offline purchases.

What happens – as is looking increasingly likely – when online becomes the dominant retail force? In the UK, supermarket chain Sainsbury has just announced the opening of its first ‘dark store’ to meet online demand and Tesco continues to expand its nationwide base of dark stores. This is reflected in the US with a comparable growth in dark stores and centralized warehouses indicating that grocery B2C is looking to play an increasingly important role in the future. In addition, retail giant Walmart has just announced plans to open its ‘largest ever’ warehouse in Pennsylvania in the Spring.

Click and convenience is undoubtedly the new mind-set, and particularly when it comes to store cupboard basics – cleaning products, frozen food, personal care staples – that we religiously buy weekly, online and probably with the aid of the virtual ‘favorites’ shopping lists that so many of us already utilize.

We need these products but maybe don’t necessarily think about them or enjoy shopping for them. But competition for the share of these products is probably the most aggressive and that is why brands need to find new ways to capitalize on this. The products themselves are important but the branded packaging probably has a far more of a functional role to play: one of safety, security and delivery. This is what we term white box thinking (designing for the online experience) – a place where the product rules and its supporting information can be found online.

JUST FreshDirectAn approach adopted by FreshDirect with the launch of its new private label groceries – ‘Just FreshDirect’ and ‘Cloud 9’ – showcased at the recent annual PLMA in Chicago.

Just FreshDirect is launching with an initial 20 staple products with butter, eggs, unbleached flour, organic milk and olive oil among the first items – and with plans to grow the range to 150 items within the next year and for both brands to be represented across every supermarket category.

A clean, bold, fresh and transparent design for Just FreshDirect clarifies the offer with supporting product packaging and online info defining the key competitive advantages: for example, that the milk is farmed by New York farmers and the eggs originate from the Alderfer farms in Pennsylvania.

But offline, there is an equally desirable and important proposition for the physical retail environment. Here it is about focusing attention and maximizing the appeal of the products we want, the kind of things we enjoy shopping for, the kind of things that inspire connoisseurship and engagement. Wine, fine coffee, chocolate…We do already have stores within stores to maximise butchery expertise or artisan bakery but, again, we maybe need to try and be more brand specific and future focused. We think this type of more luxury and indulgent purchase would sit very happily in more specific boutique concepts, retail environments such as the dedicated Nespresso outlets in London created to enhance the consumer knowledge and experience of the brand. The opportunity lies with creating new places and spaces where brand is king and product plays second fiddle. This is what we are calling black box thinking (designing for retail experience), where layers of information seek to support the brand experience turning shopping into a pleasure rather than a chore.

It’s not about brands developing a fragmented or split personality. It’s about how with the right approach to brand space – and an appreciation of the new, differing and black and white roles of the brand packaging– brands can overshadow competitors and reinforce their ownership of both the aisles and the Internet. Above all, making it easier for brands to connect with their consumers and for the consumers to truly connect with a more modal way of shopping in the future.

Rory FaganRory Fegan is Senior Strategist at Pearlfisher:


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Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.