Woolworths targets shopping missions at new flagship Metro store

Woolworths is pushing the envelope in city centre convenience with its latest Metro store in Sydney.

Opened on 20 June 2018, the new store is located in the basement of a former fashion retailer in the busy, pedestrian Pitt Street Mall.

"We are testing the boundaries of what we've previously done in city type stores," explains Lachlan Drummond, Format Development Manager for Metro.

In Pitt Street, Metro has removed its traditional deli, seafood and meat counters and replaced them with a food for now offer than spans hot roast meats, curries and rice and pick and mix salads. Products are delivered to be finished off in-store and served to customers.

The store has been organised by shopping missions with an intuitive layout that responds to how the customer buys in terms of time.

The cafe, with manned tills, is situated at the bottom of the escalator that feeds shoppers directly into the store. Alongside there's a self serve bakery, hot food and chilled drinks for customers to grab and go. Further back into the store, there are sandwiches, salads and pre-packed lines and then ready meals and raw protein - items that require more intervention from the customer - are located towards the rear.

Fresh is really to the fore. "We've really upped the ante on fresh," states Drummond.

In fact, of the 950sq m trading floor, 50% of the offer is fresh and the grocery range has been meticulously curated. According to Drummond, it's focused on healthier and better for you products; while impulse is represented relatively well with both emergency and pantry items, he adds.

For shoppers exiting the store, there is a bank of 28 self serve checkouts, five of which take cash and cards and 23 are card only. A team member helps to direct traffic and assist, where necessary. Customers are unperturbed by self checkout, Drummond adds. "As mobile payments become more mainstream, it's easy for shoppers to tap their card and be on their journey," he says.

Drummond reports Metro has purposefully ensured the store is easy to navigate and is spacious in the right areas but adds that different parts of the store are shopped at different parts of the day. The preparation areas for bakery and deli, meanwhile, are interlinked to maximise labour efficiency and create a multi-skilled team, with food prepared in batches.

The focus on fresh in the new Metro is deliberate and resonates with its parent, Woolworths, whose slogan in 'the fresh food people'. "We want to feel like we are part of the same family and that there is consistency across the brand," Drummond says.

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In terms of day part, lunch is the busiest for the new store, followed closely by breakfast. But it is still early days for the new concept, which has been launched in the middle of the Australian winter and school holidays. Drummond reports there are two competitor food courts at Pitt Street, offering lunch and a drink for $20-$25. At Metro it's just $9.00. "As word gets around, we are anticipating great growth and so far each week has been better than the last - it's very promising," he says.

Since Insight last interviewed Drummond for this newsletter in March 2017, the business has added seven new Metro stores and renewed a considerable number of its older fleet. Now Metro is nudging towards 50 stores with a 42-strong chain and there's no let up, as Drummond explains: "We are on a continual journey to become better each time we open a store. We've really tried to push boundaries in fresh and food to go," he says.

Staff have been upskilled at a Metro store facility built at its support office. So while food at the new site is delivered prepared and finished off in-store, colleagues have learnt how to prepare and serve food from scratch.

New initiatives in Pitt Street include pizza slices, which can be heated to order; hot curries; a variety of roast meals with all the trimmings and a large sushi franchise, Poke Bar. Another standout addition to the range has been celebration cakes, popular with the local office community.

"It's a very wide range in those fresh and food to go areas and then tightly curated for ambient products," Drummond says. "We've squeezed so much into the store that it will take customers a few trips to discover everything the store has to offer."

As a business, Woolworths, like other leading retailers around the world, is benefiting from the consumer trend to shop in smaller stores. "As more customers move back into the cities and with increased apartment development, customers are shopping more frequently with smaller stores," says Drummond. "It's not unusual for customers to use our stores three times a day," he adds.

The global trend for food for now is apparent in Australia too and is one Metro wants to own but with a brand specific range. "We really want to be known and trusted in that space - as a meal occasion," Drummond says.

To emphasize that focus, the new Metro stores includes seating for 24 customers, together with free wi-fi and mobile phone charging. "We will push that. The more we offer we are making it easier for the customer on their lunch break, for example. We want to remove the pain points for time poor customers and provide them with some relief from their busy day."

Inspiration for the new concept has also been won from other international markets. Drummond has participated in several Insight study tours including those to Japan, the US and Europe. Ireland, in particular, has been influential. "We've definitely taken learnings and inspiration from the Irish market, which is world class in terms of community food stores," Drummond says.

So what's next on the Metro agenda?

"We have a fairly robust new store plan and we are always looking at new formats as well, such as whether we go even smaller again to unlock even more city stores," Drummond reports. The company will also be converting 20 older Woolworths stores, which do not fit the supermarket blueprint, over to the Metro format, he adds.

Pushing the envelope indeed.

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Fiona BriggsFiona Briggs Freelance retail business journalist

Fiona is an experienced journalist and editor, writing exclusive content for GCSF. She is founder of retailtimes.co.uk. She contributes regularly to NACS Magazine and writes articles on omnichannel shopper trends for Radial. Fiona is available for commissions at fionalbriggs@gmail.com

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