Hannaford wants to use technology to make in-store shopping an interactive experience.
The Scarborough-based supermarket chain, a subsidiary of Dutch retailer Ahold Delhaize, is testing new features at its store at 295 Forest Ave. in Portland that are designed to promote certain product categories while making shopping easier and more convenient.
Those features include digital displays that show ads for products, touchscreen stations where customers can search for information, and shelves with sensors that know which items a customer has picked up so relevant product information can be displayed on a nearby screen.
Hannaford has rolled them out in a newly redesigned area of its Portland store that focuses on health, beauty and active lifestyle products.
The goal is to determine whether the changes lead to increased sales and a better customer experience.
“The only way we can figure out what will work or won’t work is to actually set it up in the store,” said Kim Gray, Hannaford’s director of category management.
The digitally equipped “concept store” is a first for Hannaford, and it follows a retail industry trend toward using in-store information technology to drive sales and enhance the customer experience.
“The integration of digital is very on trend – I think we’ll continue to see more,” said Christine Cummings, executive director of the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association. “I know that some other storefronts are integrating digital displays as part of the pricing information, and (there are places where) customers can use their smartphones to integrate with the shopping experience.”
Gray said the Forest Avenue store is ideal for testing out new concepts because it is large and close to the company’s headquarters.
Hannaford operates 181 stores in five states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York.
To go with the new technology, Hannaford has redesigned the area of the Forest Avenue store adjacent to the pharmacy, dividing it into three distinct sections known as active lifestyle, health care and beauty care.
Each section has its own signage and color scheme – green for lifestyle, blue for health and yellow for beauty.
Shelves have been extended to a much greater height, and about 1,500 new products have been added with an emphasis on natural and organic items.
Hannaford also has added an in-store nutritionist to provide product advice to customers.
There are new endcaps that feature locally made products, and special, curved shelves to indicate where organic products are located.
Some of the cold storage cases now have semitransparent LED displays showing ads for the products inside where the glass display windows used to be.
Some shelves are equipped with sensors that can determine which product a customer has pulled off the shelf.
The customer can then touch a tablet screen to display detailed product information about the item.
Next to the pharmacy, there is a large touchscreen kiosk that allows customers to search for information about off-the-shelf medications and supplements. They can also type in the name of a health condition and instantly receive information about the best products to treat it.
Hannaford shopper Jaques Uwimana of Portland said he has noticed a difference since Hannaford debuted the new concept store in November.
“It wasn’t like this before,” he said. “Now it’s big, they added more things, and it’s easier to find things.”
Uwimana said the changes will prompt him to do more shopping at Hannaford in the future.
The reconfiguration of Hannaford’s health and beauty section did appear to be confusing some customers during a recent visit to the store. A few needed help finding the items they were looking for, and one shopper suggested that Hannaford should provide a map of the area, which Gray said the company is working on.
Store Manager Tim Perry said there is always some initial confusion when a store is reconfigured and items are moved around. Still, Perry said he has noticed customers spending more time in the new section since it was unveiled.
“Now it’s more of a sauntering pattern,” he said. “They slow down, they buy multiple things.”