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Which Way Will We Go? Wayfinding in Retail Stores, 2021


Parents who watched “Moana” on repeat during quarantine are very familiar with the term “wayfinding.”


During the height of the pandemic, many stores used one-way aisles and directional signage to create a specific flow to traffic within the store to aid social distancing. For in-store shopping in 2021, stores are deciding which changes in operations are no longer needed, and which are here to stay.


That said, stores have been using similar wayfinding tactics not only to promote social distancing, but to improve the shopper experience and lean into shoppers’ habits.


For Aldi’s shoppers, wayfinding is nothing new. Aldi’s has long had a specific funnel style set-up that most customers learn and adhere to. And when someone goes “against the flow” it is almost unsettling. The expectation is there that others will follow the set order that is expected for visiting certain stores.


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As we are finding our way into and through stores, we are seeing behaviors changing in how people pick up their grocery items as well. From my own observations over the past year, in 2021 and beyond, people seem to do less meandering and follow a more structured and direct path through the grocery store.


With the Aldi example, the use of standalone displays, end cap displays, and POP displays to create a wayfinding effect helps drive spur-of-the-moment purchases and encourage people to think outside of their pre-set grocery list.


Stores are also upgrading their apps to allow for scan and go check out as well as searching for items via device, instead of asking an employee for assistance. A McKinsey survey showed nearly three quarters of surveyed shoppers have changed a shopping behavior since the beginning of COVID, with convenience and wayfinding technology taking the lead among shopping shifts. The National Retail Federation breaks down what’s been working and new consumer preferences in this insightful blog.


As we look toward a post-COVID world, will layouts and aisles change to accommodate distancing between patrons? Will we see displays set-up to keep groups from congregating in one area? Only time will tell, but we know shoppers are returning and looking to find their way again.


What we do know is that shoppers now have higher expectations for wayfinding.


They’ve seen the good, the bad, and the confusing as stores worked to create natural flow through their aisle. Now, shoppers expect clarity of signage, freedom of motion, and continuity of flow – the Aldi’s effect.


Digitally native brands can learn important lessons from these changes, as trends suggest they'll open brick-and-mortar stores in the next 5 years. As we discussed with the grocery store example, retailers and brands can use custom displays guide customers to move through set spaces to experience your product and the store.


What’s your take? How have you seen wayfinding drive revenue for brands? Call us at 740-206-8298 to talk with an expert.




*Originally posted September 2020 and updated August 2021 to reflect new data.*