Supermarkets adopt wider aisles, contactless payment as Covid-19 pandemic forces rethink in store design

Cheryl Arcibal
·3-min read

The coronavirus pandemic has triggered a rethink in the design of supermarkets. Operators are implementing changes such as wider aisles, easing congestion at entry points and adopting contactless payment technology to help maintain social distancing measures that have now become a norm to stem the spread of infections.

However, operators want to see returns from this additional investment and are looking for ways to get consumers stay longer and spend more, according to Oliver Corrin, regional director for Asia at CADA Design, an interior design consultant with studios in Hong Kong and London.

“The outcome is a new wave of supermarket interiors that are designed in a way to be calming, welcoming and atmospheric for users with new features,” said Corrin, whose firm designed Fortnum & Mason’s flagship store in Piccadilly, London and has worked with Tesco, Pret a Manger, and Harrods in the UK. In Asia, the company has redesigned the 140,000 square feet Lotte Food Avenue in Seoul and The American Club Hong Kong’s Town Club.

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“Particular attention is also being focused on high congestion areas such as entrances and pay points, employing measures to keep customers at safe distances from each other have been a focus as is the tech that can make this possible,” he said.

Grocery stores and supermarkets are adopting contactless payment technology to help maintain social distancing. Photo: AFP
Grocery stores and supermarkets are adopting contactless payment technology to help maintain social distancing. Photo: AFP

Grocery is the only retail segment that has seen an uptick during the coronavirus pandemic as lockdown measures have largely limited restaurant operations across the world while non-essential retailers such as those selling clothes and accessories have been hit hard. The stay-at-home orders have meant that people have had to cook their own meals, boosting sales of grocery stores.

Despite the roll out of vaccines that is widely seen as a step closer for the global economy to return to normalcy, analysts foresee businesses continuing to make adjustments and prioritise hygiene and safety.

“I do think design will change, design [of office] will cater more to wellness health, safety and flexibility,” said Alex Barnes, head of markets at JLL in Hong Kong.

The pandemic has even triggered a rethink in the design of homes, offices, entertainment venues and theme parks, market observers say.

With remote work becoming the norm across the globe, people are seeking homes with bigger outdoor spaces and far from crowded city centres.

For commercial buildings, suggestions include adopting designs typically employed in hospitals such as quarantine rooms close to the reception area to provide an isolated space for a person who might be infected, toilet cubicles that have floor-to-ceiling walls, among others.

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Recreation spaces such as cinemas, karaokes and even theme parks could see potential design shifts and use of materials that are easy to clean and require low maintenance. Besides banning food inside cinemas, other proposals include installing ultraviolet lights underneath cinema seats that can be switched on in between screenings to disinfect the seating area, cashless payment systems, and use of anti-bacteria carpets.

In the case of supermarkets, Corrin said as the pandemic has accelerated the shift away from queues and traditional payment methods, there will be boom in the use of new materials and finishes.

“These will be borne out of necessity , but the key will be a balance of conveying to shoppers that they are in a pristine space, but without feeling sterile,” he said.

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