Business

Bloom aims to ease shopping experience

Bloom employee Isha Drammeh, center, hands out samples to customers who previewed the new store in Fort Mill Township on Tuesday. The store opened Wednesday.

Customers will be able to scan items as they shop at Bloom with one of these scanners.
Bloom employee Isha Drammeh, center, hands out samples to customers who previewed the new store in Fort Mill Township on Tuesday. The store opened Wednesday. Customers will be able to scan items as they shop at Bloom with one of these scanners.

Grocery store opens at entrance to Regent Park

FORT MILL -- The little things matter to the folks at Bloom.

Fort Mill Township's newest grocery store opened its doors Wednesday. Delhaize, the Belgian company that owns both the Food Lion and Bloom brands, spent two years developing the Bloom concept before opening four pilot stores in Charlotte in 2004. The Fort Mill store, sitting at the entrance to Regent Park on U.S. 21, is the company's 53rd Bloom store, according to Robin Johnson, Bloom's director of marketing and brand development.

Bloom gave local media a sneak preview of the Fort Mill store the day before it opened to the public.

"We did a lot of due diligence, we looked at retailers, and not just grocery retailers, all kinds of retailers, in North America and Europe, and we spent a great deal of time talking to shoppers," Johnson said. "We were basically asking them what it was they hated about shopping."

The Bloom team took their list of shoppers' gripes and used it to create several features, including touchscreen computer kiosks equipped with bar-code scanners. Some display basic information such as prices and product locations within the store. Others offer a fuller menu of choices, from recipe ideas to nutrition facts and information on wines. The kiosk in the bakery section even has a whack-a-mole game and a fingerpaint program for kids. The scales in the produce area also are equipped with touch computer screens that display produce information.

A 'Breeze' for customers

Like most other grocery chains, Bloom has a customer rewards program it calls "Breeze." Customers can use their Breeze cards at the kiosks to pull up shopping lists and sign up for a self-scan program, Johnson said.

About 20 wireless hand-held scanners are magnetically locked into a display case at each entrance. A customer can scan a Breeze card at the display to unlock one of the scanners and can grab a stack of paper or plastic bags or purchase reusable canvas bags for $1 each. While shopping, customers can scan and bag all their items, scan a bar-code sticker located at each checkout station, and the register rings up all the products that were scanned during the shopping trip, and the customers are on their way.

Presentation is another important element of the Bloom experience, Johnson said. She led the team that developed the concept, and most Bloom employees refer to her as "Fairy Brand Mother." With produce, meats and baked goods carefully arranged, the fresh foods sections are an eye-catching part of the store.

One innovation that has proved very popular for the chain in other locations is its "create your own six-pack" option. The store stocks single bottles of just about every beer it carries in one refrigerated case and allows customers to pick any six they want for $7.99. Bloom even supplies cardboard cartons to carry the bottles in.

Bloom also borrowed some concepts from the European market, where grocery stores are smaller and have to use space more efficiently. Deeper shelves with rounded fronts break up the monotony of standard grocery aisles in several spots throughout the store. Also, the checkout lines look different than most other grocery stores because Bloom uses a European horseshoe model, which allows for more registers in the same space as standard checkouts.

Another little detail that may appeal to a lot of customers is the shelf height the store uses. Most grocery shelves top out at 72 inches; Bloom's stop at 66 inches. Johnson said the company decided to use the lower height because it is comfortable height for the average woman of 5 feet, 5 inches.

One thing Bloom doesn't have, though, is a shopping cart mechanic to fix bum wheels. Johnson said it's cheaper to buy new carts.

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