Center Aisle Phobia

What consumers love and hate about the center aisle

The Imperative: Reinvent the center store.

It’s the bane of many shoppers and retailers. Despite a rich diversity of products in grocery center aisles, shoppers increasingly prefer the store perimeter. How can grocery retailers and CPG companies draw them back in?

WD Partners’ whitepaper, The Fundamentals of Aisle Attraction, details what we discovered when we shared various instore marketing and merchandising concepts to a wide range of shoppers.

Discover what more than 1,500 shoppers think about the center aisle of the typical grocery store. Their responses will likely surprise you.

“A place to be avoided.”

Unfortunately, that is how many shoppers regard center of the grocery store. While ends of aisles are constantly refreshed with seasonal presentations, sales items, and creative brand promotions, the center is static and monotonous. Row after row of sameness.

“Crowded.” “Intimidating.” “Confusing.”

These aren’t our words. They’re the voices of shoppers WD talked to about their impression of shopping in the existing center-aisle. Our challenge was to explore shopper perceptions and capture their reactions to a variety of approaches to in-store marketing and merchandising. The feedback was unguarded, honest — and remarkably informative.

The results of this research are presented in an easy to understand report that may inspire change within your own organization.

What does it take to get a shopper to enter an aisle?

  • What innovations are attractive to shoppers and why?
  • Permanent built-ins or temporary attached displays?
  • Rounded or square shelves?
  • Do ceiling graphics work?

Highlights of the Study

  • This study probes the questions: How do retailers and CPG companies get shoppers to see their products if they don’t shop in that aisle? What design innovations work, and why? Do aesthetics affect behavior? Should planograms change?
  • The current “innovation gap” between perimeter and center store is a competitive opportunity for forward thinking CPG companies and groceries.
  • Innovations can make a dramatic impact on consumer perceptions, and likely, behavior.
  • View the in-aisle concepts presented to shoppers, and learn what they did and didn’t like.
  • Discover the importance of symmetry, and how it can be achieved. It might surprise you.
  • Learn about how complexity can enhance the customer’s experience in the aisle. It doesn’t necessarily mean SKU rationalization.

“The good news is that all generations respond positively to the same attractions, which leads to a huge opportunity for retailers to attract all types of shoppers. But it is imperative to understand that Millennials will be greatly disappointed if the personal payoff isn’t there, as they are the least likely to want to shop center store.”

Michelle Fenstermaker
Executive Director, Consumer Insights
WD Partners

1. Don’t neglect the center store

Over the last decade, center-store profits have continued to decline. Today, the center store contributes approximately 70% of weekly profit at the store level.

2. Don’t continue using the same old tactics

Flimsy, stand-up cardboard displays, coupon dispensers, and floor graphics don’t impress shoppers.

3. Don’t threaten the shopper’s personal space with sharp edges

Rounded edges on merchandise displays are much less intimidating. Some study participants winced when describing the fear of getting snagged by a display corner.

4. Do take advantage of the “innovation gap”

Innovation is not only possible, it’s an imperative. The store perimeter has been the focus of retailers for many years. Now it’s time to reinvigorate the center of the store!

5. Do appeal to basic human preferences

People like novelty, surprise, permanence, and symmetry no matter where they are. Even in a grocery store.

6. Do build shop-like environments in the aisles

But only where they’re appropriate. Some areas lend themselves to this kind of solution better than others.

White Paper Details


  • What does it take to get the shopper to want to enter an aisle?

Research basis:

  • Quantitative study of nearly 700 men and more than 800 women
  • Qualitative focus-group studies, segmented by generation

What’s inside:

Strategies to potentially improve sales in the center store, including:

  • Details of what attracts shoppers
  • What principles increase the effectiveness of in-store marketing
  • Insightful shopper profiles

Please visit for more information.



  • This is a very interesting topic and intrigues me as I have been involved in designing many big box retailer locations across the country. I would agree that the center of the store is usually not the most attractive as far as shopper experience. It makes perfect sense that the average consumer would avoid the center for fear of feeling “closed in” or crowded. Something that I feel may have been missed during the research of this topic though, is also the hesitation for consumers to shop the center aisles based on health needs and/or desires. Typically, the center of the store is filled with fatty, sugar filled treats full of carbohydrates. The perimeter of the store includes the major essentials for leading a healthful diet. Focusing the perimeter of the store around the major food groups, a health conscious shopper can walk the perimeter, buy only the necessary foods for sustaining life, and avoid buying cookies, ice cream, frozen dinners, sugary drinks, and of course who can forget, potato chips. For this reason, I believe focusing consumer’s attention to these aisles will not only be a design challenge, but also one that includes providing healthier choices attracting those that are concerned with their belt line. Just a thought.

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