Expanded produce departments, in-store smokers, mobile-enabled checkout and smoothie stations are among the new features being deployed among a group of 21 revamped Stop & Shop locations in Hartford, Conn.

Stop & Shop president Mark McGowan provided insight on how the company developed the updated look and various offerings that will be evaluated and selectively rolled out to more stores as Stop & Shop updates the rest of its 400-plus locations in the next several years.

Among the Hartford stores, no two are alike, though there are certainly some common elements, McGowan said.

Focus groups, shop-alongs, online and phone surveys and internal discussion — including the creation of a “millennial board” — helped inform the changes.

“The wants and needs of millennials are not necessarily the wants and needs of baby boomers, and so we did a tremendous amount of research both internally with customers as well as across the trade, spent a fair amount of time in other retailers in the U.S. and abroad as well to really start to work toward where we were going to take our business,” McGowan said Oct. 5. “I think intuitively we had some fairly good ideas to start with about where the customer was and where they were moving, but certainly all of our research helped us get to a place where we could start to build our go-forward strategy, and building that (strategy) we developed the stores that we are launching today.”

One of the takeaways from the millennial board was the importance of digital communication and social media. The company has worked to embrace the possibilities in those areas, particularly since one of the core tenets of Stop & Shop is providing convenience and ease of shopping.

Mobile-enabled or “frictionless” checkout, facilitated by the company’s Scan It! technology, is one of the services being tested at some of the revamped Hartford stores. Stop & Shop is also developing an item finder app that will let shoppers ask aloud where an item is and immediately get an answer of which aisle and where in the aisle.

“We’ve really started to up our game in digital,” McGowan said.

Fresh produce plays a major role in all Stop & Shop stores, and the revamped locations in Hartford include more organic, more local and more value-added produce items.

Some stores have fresh smoothie stations or now offer fresh-squeezed juice, and fresh-cut produce sections have been expanded. Stop & Shop has also made price investments in produce. Items purchased most frequently have been the focus of that effort.

“My observation has been that overall ... millennials are looking for value on basics but are willing to spend on things that are important to them,” McGowan said. “I’ve seen that in a lot of research beyond the research that we did, but that’s certainly been confirmed with more of the research that we’ve done ... making sure that you have the right value on those things that matter and you also give your customers the opportunity to explore and try new things, whether that’s expanded exotic produce or it’s soaps and oils, organic soaps and oils from local suppliers.”

Other new offerings Stop & Shop is testing in the revamped stores include machines where shoppers can create their own olive oil and vinegar blends; kombucha fountains; informational craft beer kiosks; “community tables” with family-style seating; and poke bowl and taqueria stations, according to a news release.

McGowan described produce and fresh overall as “a place where we know that we need to thrive and provide (shoppers) what they’re looking for and also surprise them with sometimes what they’re not looking for, in a positive way.”

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