Going the Extra Aisle

Forget long, boring aisles. Italian co-operative group Extracoop has opted for a circular layout with product categories spinning off the central food market to create a hybrid extravaganza of shop-in-shops.

By Mark Faithfull

Turning everyday shopping into a personal experience is the not-unambitious aim for Italy’s largest co-operative supermarket group, Alleanza 3.0, a fusion of smaller regional cooperatives that, at the beginning of December 2017, launched a bold new format dubbed Extracoop.

The hypermarket concept opened simultaneously late last year in three locations—Bologna, Modena and Ravenna—at an average of 118,000 sq. ft. in sales area and with the stores including a beauty shop with a salon, florist, an optician, housewares and a jeweler.

Coop Alleanza 3.0 is the largest co-operative in Italy and part of the country’s thriving co-operative model, bringing together 400 stores in 12 regions across 94 consumer co-operatives, of which seven are large operations. It was formed in January 2016 via the merger of Coop Adriatica, Coop Consumatori Nordest and Coop Estense and at the start of this year, Coop Eridana and Coop Sicilia also joined.

The new Extracoop concept, including design, layout, graphics and visual merchandising, was developed by Zurich-based Interstore in close collaboration with the retail group. Schweitzer Project implemented the new design at all three initial locations while the stores remained open to shoppers, in a process that took eight months.

The brief was for a modern design with a high degree of flexibility that puts the focus on the merchandise. Eye-catching wooden ceiling elements and high, black metal frames around individual departments provide a visual structure for the large sales area and put the focus on each of the product categories.

“Extracoop is a revolution for the hypermarket segment. Our customer realized that the existing format is dead and was open to a total redefinition: logical assortments and specialized non-food stores in a shop-in-shop style,” says Bernhard Schweitzer, CEO and owner of Schweitzer.

As a result, wooden fixtures and natural materials dominate, with non-food areas delineated with different perimeter backdrops and equipment, although the use of natural materials, such as wood, metal frameworks and tiled flooring, again predominates.

The central fresh food area is the heart of the market, surrounded by the non-food departments, each with its own character and look. This has been designed to make shoppers feel as if they are in a small specialty store and not in a large footprint hypermarket. Through the circular loop arrangement and the positioning of the departments, shoppers are always in contact with all the assortments and do not need to cover long distances up and down aisles.

“By creating this shop-in-shop character, we were able to break down the large surface area of thousands of square meters into smaller areas, each with its own character, statement and product expertise,” Schweitzer says. “The result is an exciting customer journey, with changing atmospheres, more surprises and a greater choice.”

Where traditional checkouts would normally sit, shoppers instead encounter independent shops, like the beauty salon or gastronomy counters, creating a smooth transition from the market to the mall, and to make optimal use of a high footfall area.

“Normally the goal is to extend the sales area as much as possible,” Schweitzer explains. “The cash desks are a visually not very appealing area, positioned at the end of the store. This may work for most locations, but in a shopping mall, we have a special situation. Positioned at the end of the store, the cash desks are the visible connection to the mall—a barrier that doesn’t generate sales or appear inviting for passersby. So we put them inside the store and used the highly frequented front area to attract customers and sell products—a simple idea that works.”

The in-store communication, including its look and coloring, is completely new. Graphic elements are used for staging purposes and to guide shoppers on their way through the store, providing both orientation and product information. Large white fluorescent letters, lightboxes with pictures and digital screens are just some examples. The graphic language is direct and simple without any formality, addressing shoppers on a personal level.

Visual merchandising is another central part of this new concept and is staged in every single department, with the focus squarely put on the merchandise. This enhances the shopping experience and contributes to better communication of the product categories, shows offers and tells stories about the product—in a personal, emotional way. Cross-merchandising according to time of year and trend topics emphasizes the expertise within every department, with the intention to repeatedly surprise shoppers with new ideas.

Decorative elements underline the assortment and always are related to the product and its origin. Merchandise positioning on shelf rows and on the tables is clear and structured, making it visually appealing, despite the large volumes.

“The design approach underlines the product worlds and puts the focus on the merchandise,” Schweitzer adds. “Besides the store layout and design, also graphic and visual merchandising play a huge role. A simple, direct and personal graphic language without any formalism addresses the shoppers at eye level and enhances the human scale of the format. In short: fresh, smart, modern and personalized—not comparable to a typical hypermarket.”


project file

Modena, Bologna and Ravenna, Italy

Coop Alleanza 3.0


Schweitzer Project

Columbia, COSTAN

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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