A lot of column inches have been devoted to the travails facing the hypermarket concept in Europe, with retailers such as Tesco, Ahold, Kesko, Asda and Carrefour all trying a variety of tactics and strategies (for there is a difference between the two) to reinvent their bigger box concepts and reignite the dormant love affair between time-pressed shoppers and the one- stop-shop proposition.

A number of these reiterations have involved downsizing properties, inviting in third-party providers to lay on general merchandise departments or food-for-now facilities and attempting to soak up extra space through more theatrical fresh food merchandising.

‘Best in fresh’ seems to be a clarion call for many of these reinvention endeavours and there has been a particular focus placed on departments such as bakery, fresh produce and service counters as retailers seek to underscore their credentials as destinations for the discerning food shopper.

Another main theme of hypermarket evolution has been a recalibration of space and effort in terms of general merchandise: recognising that the ‘jack of all trades’ approach can be somewhat dilutive and self-defeating, several retailers have picked their non-food battles – focusing on categories like baby, clothing and household goods, while downplaying more peripheral categories like sports, motoring and office.

My recent trip to Russia suggested to me that local hypermarket operators are still some way off having to make these decisions. The model still seems to work relatively well. Although the Russian consumer is still somewhat troubled, Russia is an Amazon-free zone and the seismic shifts seen in general merchandise retailing seen in other countries have yet to destabilize the centre of gravity in Russian retailing. Discount stores are notable by their absence too – there are a few modestly sized chains, but none with the scale or clout of Aldi or Lidl who have terrorised supermarket and hypermarket operators elsewhere around the world.

I was able to visit several hypermarket concepts last week and what amazed me was the huge differences between them. Magnit was clearly and unashamedly targeted at less affluent shoppers; O’Key was positioned in the mid-market; and Globus – of German parentage – was directed firmly at the premium end of the market.

I’ve not visited a Globus for about 15 years. The last one I saw was in Germany and while I was there, I bought the worst advent calendar ever. From memory, it was manufactured by P&G and behind each door was a mini tube of toothpaste or a tiny bottle of floor cleaner and so on. Halcyon days. So, I’ve got no recent comparisons to draw on, but what I discovered in this branch of Global (there are only 12 in the country) was a joyful reminder that being awesome at food and putting the shopper first can mean that the good old hypermarket can still flourish.

The store I went to on the outskirts of Russia was enormous. It followed the standard European layout: a host of small stores and cafes etc. beyond the checkouts; an entrance leading into an impressive promotional aisle, with lots of non-food to the right and the remainder of non-food and grocery to the left. The promotional aisle on this occasion was devoted to gifts for men (due to an impending national holiday), and was therefore replete with camouflage garments, replica firearms and whisky in bottles in the shape of firearms. Fair enough.

The store was wonderfully signposted throughout, thanks to large wall graphics and informative overheads. I’ve always maintained that a retailer’s attitude can often be uncovered by analysing its lightbulb section. This might sound odd, but it is a confusing category and is often left as a shambles with the responsibility for finding the right SKU thrust firmly on the shopper. Globus, however, has a wonderful fixture with amazing segmentation and a real-life example of each and every bulb lit up above the shelving. Retail geek heaven.

The food offer was beyond enticing. Complete with standard Russian features such as gargantuan meat and charcuterie counters, fish tanks for shoppers to pick their favourite carp, excellent bakery and in-house sushi counter, the produce department was superlative as well. The central kitchen providing convenience meals looked excellent and was doing very brisk business. All in all, it was no wonder that this was one of the busiest stores that I visited.

The booze department was another highlight. In addition to a craft beer counter, the wine rage was breath-taking and was segmented superbly – not just by country but also by region. This was good work indeed.

The checkout area was another highlight. The store has 70 (!) checkouts, of which 30 were open when I visited (6pm on a weekday). There were digital screens that told shoppers which checkouts were currently vacant and also had the ability to indicate the depth of queues during busy weekend trading. A nice touch to round off a visit that provided a degree of reassurance that there is life left in the hypermarket concept in Russia. For the next few years anyway.

Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director

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