Discounters count on design


Carolina Cerruto

Research Executive

Categories Uncategorized

A look at how discounter supermarkets are using design to create a great customer experience

The UK’s grocery landscape has been an interesting one to watch. As figures month over month have shown, the ‘big four’ supermarkets – Sainsburys, Tesco, Morrison’s and Asda – have faced stiff competition from ‘discounter’ supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi.

Nowadays, it seems like they’re on everyone’s shopping list – from penny pinchers, to Waitrose regulars, to ‘thrill of the hunt’ seekers, to well, perhaps you and me.

Whilst pricing may lure some shoppers to discounters, it’s clear this isn’t the only motivation for shopping here. In fact, a recent study by Kantar Media TGI Europa found that only one-third of FMCG European shoppers are predominantly driven by price, meaning that for most, other factors (like convenience, quality, ethics, experience, etc.) can have bigger weight in the purchase decision.

Perhaps this explains why we’ve seen a shift in how discounters communicate their brand offer, blurring the lines between what a discounter and a middle-market grocer bring to the table. Looking to shed negative perceptions of what a discounter looks like (dark, cluttered warehouses stocked with processed food), Lidl and Aldi are leveraging in-store design to communicate their brand values and assert their credentials.

We see three key values being communicated via design, which we explore below.


From the moment you step inside a Lidl or Aldi, you get a taste for their ‘simpler’ brand personality. And you’ll quickly grasp that ‘simple’ doesn’t equate to ‘basic’ or ‘bare’ here, but rather, it’s pleasantly ‘uncomplicated.’

For starters, the store sizes are typically a fraction of say, a regular-sized Tesco, making it feel manageable to navigate, and yet surprisingly spacious and full-service in its offer.

Aldi and Lidl are particularly aware of how spatial perception can help convey simplicity – not only because it can aid the store in looking organised and clean, but also because it gives consumers the reassurance that they’ll find exactly what they need in one shopping trip.

Lidl in Woolwich
Aldi in Elephant & Castle
Aldi in Elephant & Castle

Looking closely, you notice careful attention has been paid to the lighting, aisle spacing, and even flooring to ensure these ‘uncomplicated’ values flow throughout the store.

At the recently renovated Lidl in Woolwich, for example, white LED lights run down the store periphery and aisles, brightening and lengthening the room in a way that adds an element of openness and space, despite its physical size.

Even small touches that may go unnoticed by the naked eye, like the deliberate use of larger floor tiles, have been cleverly chosen to play a simple ‘optical illusion’.

In terms of store layout, Aldi and Lidl  follow a familiar supermarket format, making it easy to assimilate and navigate for anyone used to grocery shopping. The layout includes all the ‘necessary sections’ to make it feel like a supermarket –  flowers at the entrance, perishables at the periphery, frozen and preserved goods in the middle, a bakery, wine and beer near the check-out, etc. Perhaps one of the only main differences in store layouts, is that discounters tend to have a ‘quirky’ middle area selling anything from ski wear to toastie makers; this of course, adds to the overall personality of the discounter brands, playing up on the ‘simplicity’ that a one-stop-shop can deliver.


Baked goods at Lidl

It’s not to say that lower prices have come at the expense of quality, and discounters like Lidl and Aldi are designing their in-store experiences to let you know that. By offering quality products at lower prices, these discounters offer great value for money.

In the first minute you set foot in the store, you literally smell the quality – a fresh baked quality, that is. Freshly baked breads and pastries, complete with appetising images assert the care and expertise of their bakery.

Appealing to the senses is something middle-market and posh retailers have been doing for years, and in mirroring these small touches, Aldi and Lidl are not only bridging the gap between what discounters and their higher-market grocery counterparts offer, but making this an emotive shopping experience.

Lidl’s Deluxe range

Lighting and appliances are also essential in driving quality credentials. White LED lights line the insides of state-of-the-art freezers and refrigerators, ensuring that the food and packaging are showcased in the best possible light.

Even standing a few meters away, you can read the quality accolades for the products housed in the refrigerators —  the refrigerators for Lidl’s Deluxe range, for example, beam with “Own Brand Range of the Year – the 2014 Oracle Retail Awards.”

Spotlights have also been strategically placed to feature key items, drawing attention and creating a theatre around products, signage, and areas asserting quality credentials. The spotlights above Lidl’s ‘Wine Cellar’ and Aldi’s ‘Specially Selected For You’ sections, for example, add an element of luxury and curation, accentuating deeper hues in their display and packaging.

photo 5
Lidl sign reinforcing quality credentials

Whilst the ‘big four’ counterparts have taught discounters a thing or two about the use of lighting for on-shelf display, it’s clear discounters have taken it a step further; unlike the ‘big four’ where signage often serves a functional purpose – highlighting price or helping locate products – discounters leverage lighting to assert their brand name, their visual brand identity, and their quality credentials. Make no mistake, if you are shopping at a Lidl or Aldi, you will unequivocally know where you are and what it stands for.

What’s also important for discounters is that they don’t just talk the talk – their quality actually goes beyond design and extends to products. As they say, the proof is in the pudding (or well, the Tempranillo in Aldi’s case). Both Lidl and Aldi have been internationally lauded for their quality own brand range products, luring a range of middle class novices and connoisseurs alike.


Aldi entrance

Looking to depart from perceptions that discounters are havens for mass-produced, frozen, or processed goods, Lidl and Aldi have focused efforts to highlight their fresh and local offerings.

Enlarged, highly visual images of fresh fruit and veg lead up to the main entrance, and at Aldi, posters stating ‘do your fresh shop here’ reaffirm this.

Once inside, the first thing shoppers are greeted with are fresh flowers bouquets and plants (this, of course, is just at about the same time you first smell the fresh baked goods). At Lidl’s ‘Flower Market’ section, the  flowers are displayed in faux crates that look like they’re made out of reclaimed wood, giving it a local, hometown feel.

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‘Fresh — delivered daily’ signs at Lidl

As you make your way inside Lidl, you pass posters with large images of fresh food – juicy oranges, ready-picked carrots, ripe apples – with no supporting copy except for a badge of approval with the image of a tree noting ‘Fresh – delivered daily’.

Like in its minimal communication, Lidl is letting the quality of the products speak for themselves – without the need for a price tag. Further hammering in a local element, the fresh produce comes stacked on a faux earthy beige crate that looks to be made out of reclaimed wood, and boast the locally-sourced credentials.

This ‘fresh & local’ approach may also be a way to further connect with British consumers, looking to slightly move away from being seen as ‘European’ or ‘foreign.’ Whilst Lidl won’t hide its German roots (and the street cred this gives them for goods like Stollen), they also ensure shoppers know they care about their new home and are serious about sourcing locally.

As firm believers in the power of good design, we predict that the likes of Aldi and Lidl will continue to shake things up (even outside the traditional grocery space), teaching us all a thing or two about using design to create great experiences irrespective of price point.