There may already have been lots of activity, but there is more to come in store design as supermarkets continue to evolve. Many concepts will be pioneered and plagiarised over the next few years, so where will the changes appear? The experts share their forecasts: The Designer: Self-service "One of the bigger trends around at the moment is self-service. In part it is a response by retailers to economic conditions: if you can't get more turnover, you can at least cut staff costs. But probably, more importantly, it is to do with the quality of the in-store experience for the customer. Self-service is already in evidence on different levels ­ product dispensing on one side and payment through self scanning check outs on the other. Both are far more advanced in the US than here, but the UK will follow suit. "Asda is trialling a refillable detergent and conditioner unit that gives customers a cost benefit if they use the refillable pouches provided. Asda can say it is providing a greener alternative that cuts down on excess plastic, but it is also easier to refill one detergent dispenser than to be continually restocking a shelf. The only caveat to all of this is that volumes have to increase markedly to offset an inevitable loss of margin. Having said that, if self-service dispensers give customers the sense of getting more for less, they may be prepared to sacrifice a little comfort. In design terms it is a trade-off between comfort, convenience and range." John Ryan, head of communications, 20:20 The shareholder: Electronic shelf labelling "The back end of the store is already highly automated and, assuming that self-scanning takes off (it's being rolled out aggressively in the US), the only things that will be left to do manually will be in the middle of the store. There has long been an argument that electronic shelf labelling is too expensive to pay its way, but retail management has failed to evaluate it properly or see the full range of benefits ­ for instance labels can be interactive to provide shoppers with information such as price comparisons per unit, salt content or allergy details. "Consumer associations may rage against the idea of variable pricing, but from a shareholder's point of view, this is something that should, and I think will, happen. Retailers ought to be making assets sweat. It is already being trialled in the US by Ahold subsidiary Stop & Shop. "It won't make the store look significantly different, but it will alter the shelf design and the way products are merchandised at different times of the day." David Stoddart, retail analyst, Teather & Greenwood Interface designer: Checkouts "The supermarket experience is better than ever, but we are still let down by a poor and time-consuming check-out experience. Designers have improved the physical environment by widening aisles, widening and speeding up conveyor-belts, adding bright zany super graphics or last minute treats, and domesticating the checkout area with over-scale lampshades and planting, or introducing lowered canopies to try to slow the pace and make the area more intimate. But that is only dressing up the issue of what is still the most time consuming and displeasing process of checking the price on every product in a trolley that is filled with a month's shopping. "Self-scanning has already moved ahead in the US with the U-check concept that scans a trolley's contents as you leave the store and uses a thumbprint to automatically debit your account. In the UK, cash is being taken at the checkout less and less and, with cash-back, checkouts are more cash dispensers than cash takers. These developments, coupled with the increase in home shopping means the checkout experience will become more about service than pushing products along a conveyer. "Staff will be there for service reasons, rearranging your delivery time, adding an extra four pints of milk onto the following week's delivery. Staff will be the face of the supermarket and be there more to ensure that, on leaving the store, you have managed to find everything you need, as simply as possible." Robert Vaughan, senior designer, Fitch Retail commentator: Food merchandising "Despite huge strides in recent years, food retailing is still done in a quite primitive fashion compared with fashion retailing, which successfully merchandises products by concentrating on their end use. In fashion, the retailer supports the product by showing what it could look like when it is being used, that rarely happens in food retailing and grocers are missing a trick. "Take Italian food. You will find it in the wine department, cheese department, on the pasta shelves and innumerable other places around the store. If you were able to merchandise all of that in a meal situation it would add real value to the customer's shopping experience. In the future we'll see much more imaginative presentation of food in our supermarkets. "Tasting and trial in store is also going to be vitally important as consumers get used to expecting more of a culinary experience from their grocery shopping. Manufactures will have a key role in supporting retailers' foray into trial and sampling in store. However, retailers are only just beginning to think about it." Richard Hyman, chairman, Verdict Research The academic: Non food "The expansion into non food of the major superstore chains is an obvious extension of their core business. However, selling non food items can be more difficult in terms of design and customer flow and interaction. "Decisions have to be made about the flow of customers around the store and the fixtures and fittings needed to both create the ambience they desire and produce the right selling environment. There is a difference for example between the non-food that Wal-Mart offers and the way it uses space and the way in which a Tesco Extra might choose to offer products. In either case, considerable effort has to be spent in making the sections understandable and shoppable by consumers. "Space has to be broken up and sections of the store have to produce coherent offers. In short, there is an art to non-food retailing that food retailers will have to learn. The evidence to date is that they have been able to do much of the basics right. The stores look quite good and seem to be selling well. However, as more retailers put more emphasis on non-food and the competitors in the sector react, so food retailers will have to make sure they continue to understand how customers feel about such stores. I would suspect that this is going to lead to more of a sense of stores within store than we have seen to date." Professor Leigh Sparks, Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling {{COVER FEATURE }}