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Brand Strategy Retail Marketing

Retail Therapy: The grocery & department stores delivering the best in-store experiences


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

May 31, 2024 | 6 min read

Continuing The Drum’s Retail Focus, we ask marketing experts to tell us which grocery and department store brands are delivering the best retail experience in their brick-and-mortar locations and what they are doing right to attract modern consumers.


Kroger's smart shelf technology

Physical retailers have faced immense challenges in recent years as shoppers have taken their purchases online, Covid closed shop doors for months and the global cost of living crisis has forced a decline in footfall and, as a result, sales.

This means that traditional brick-and-mortar retailers now have to fight harder and think more creatively than ever before to deliver seamless customer experiences in their stores. So, which brands are doing it the best in the eyes of marketers?

In the final part of our Retail therapy series, we focus on grocery and department store brands.

Henry Fernandez, executive director of business development, Barbarian: “Not your typical grocery run, but Kroger’s smart shelves are a glimpse into the future of retail, even beyond the confines of food. These shelves personalize your shopping experience, highlight deals in real time and illuminate your list with a touch of your phone. But the real kicker? They’re eco-friendly, reducing paper waste and energy consumption. Imagine fashion stores where you find the perfect pair of jeans with a tap, or sporting goods stores that alert you to flash sales on your favorite gear – all while minimizing environmental impact. This is innovation that excites me and Kroger's Edge system is paving the way for a more sustainable, interactive shopping experience across industries.”

Kirsty Minns, partner and executive creative director, Mother Design: “Every time I walk into a Selfridges building it reaffirms to me exactly why br-and-mortar still matters and why I love the world of retail. This is a business that understands the importance of brand and how it needs to work across every single touchpoint. With heaps of brand charisma, it’s more than just a shop, it’s a club you want to be part of. The space offers inspiration, endless exploration and a continuous stream of creativity. This is a brand that is fearless and isn’t afraid to do things differently: from its ever-changing program of events to its beautiful, curated Corner Shop that always offers something surprising to its celebration of the world’s best artists and designers, all wrapped with a very clear brand identity and strategy that sits behind it. This is what makes me, and Selfridges’ loyal community of super fans, keep going back for more.”

Sean Claessen, chief strategy officer, Bond Brand Loyalty: “Nobody’s nailed it. But a few hold promise. Walmart has explored a variety of new approaches, from implementing sensory-friendly hours to nursing rooms, larger pickup and delivery areas, as well as introducing exclusive access to dedicated self-checkout for Walmart+ subscribers. Fashion retailer Zara has introduced an app feature that offers change room booking in advance – a nice bridge between new digital-born expectations of predictability and the less predictable physical world, remedying frequently long queues for try-ons, even creating new reasons to communicate. More interestingly, it moves up the self-identification moment that can be spotty for some brands IRL, decouples it from conversion while also improving share of wallet clarity in a brand’s data.”

Siu-Lan Choi, executive creative director, Household: “I could pick a big brand, but my mind immediately jumps to my local bakers, Source of Life in Barnet. It’s not well-known and it’s tiny. So, why do I keep going back? Well, the product is excellent, there are fresh, tempting displays and there’s always something different to try. But it’s the service that’s key; it knows our tastes and can therefore make great suggestions. It alerts the neighborhood with fresh-out-of-the-oven posts over Insta and can keep things aside with a simple DM. And though none of these things are ground-breaking, they are the things that make a brand worth going back to time and time again. Many are now harking back to a model we once knew, where old fashioned service is key. In a time where we crave IRL experiences to balance the increasingly virtual side of our lives, people lie at the heart of delivering memorable experiences with a personalized service that is enhanced by tech and data.”

Kevin Veenman, head of retail media & marketplaces, Dept: “Ikea’s ability to blend physical retail with interactive and engaging elements, represented in a home-like setting, sets a high standard for customer experience. Its focus on an enjoyable shopping journey, coupled with its commitment to sustainability, always-on product lines and accessible smart home technology makes Ikea a prime example of a successful brick-and-mortar retail brand. It continually adapts to changing consumer preferences and adapts to the zeitgeist for the shopping experience, ensuring it remains repeatable and enjoyable.”

Todd Maute, partner, CBX: “Retail has been faced with a slew of challenges, from supply chain issues and inflation to logistics complications and widespread encroachment of online retailers, not to mention significant advancements in technology. Some have embraced the change and developed unique solutions and at the same time classic ways to engage consumers. Trader Joes, for one, never disappoints on the product side by constantly offering new items, in addition to friendly staff and an overall welcoming environment. Then there’s Shop-Rite, which has heavily invested in providing consumers great grab-and-go meal solutions, as well as Nordstrom with its personalized concierge shopping services and Ikea with its augmented reality that enables consumers to see the furniture in their homes. Apple offers a modern environment, clean product merchandising and a Genius Bar for those in need of expert advice and Lululemon has built a very strong sense of community through in-store and local events like the Spring Run Series.”

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