By their very nature, ‘concept’ stores are theater incarnate – all the best bits of a shopping experience combined under flattering lighting. It’s no wonder that we’ve seen a crop of new concept stores from supermarkets given the big money in experience-led retail.

We’ve already written a whole newsletter on the topic of experiential retail, with one of our favourite examples being Harrod’s new look food hall. The multi-million pound refurbishment is centered around a few keys pieces of theatrical, interactive staging, including a vast in-house coffee roaster and vegetable ‘butchery’.

But we thought concept stores specifically merited a closer look – especially as, in the context of this month’s newsletter on the topic of environmental sustainability, they’re part of a move to ‘greening’ UK supermarkets.

Or is it all just set dressing?

Waitrose kicked it off with the opening of their packaging-free trial at their Oxford Bolney Road store. A bold concept for a national retailer – but it was viewed by many as green-washing rather than a genuinely bold step towards eliminating packaging.

But it was our visit to the M&S concept (though permanent) food store in Clapham Junction which made our fingers itch for the keyboard. There’s oodles of ‘theater’ here, from a button which plays the sound of ‘happy hens’ to the hydroponic Infarm live display. There’s also much which plays to the appearance of being if not packaging-free, then at least packaging-lite as a store. Once you get past all the heirloom tomatoes, heritage variety potatoes and tropical fruit loose for customers to pick over, it’s your standard shrink-wrapped supermarket. It’s very frustrating to contrast the fresh food sections front and center with the ‘paper’ bags at the bakery which are inexplicably non-recyclable?! Especially when, without much fanfare, Sainsburys has introduced recyclable paper bags in its bakeries and 30p reusable mesh bags in its fresh produce aisles in place of plastic bags.

But obviously, what we’re all here for is the wine.

And WOW has M&S rewritten the rule book.

See the picture above? It’s a crappy iPhone snap, but you can still clearly see WINE beaming above the stacks of potatoes, directly in view of the entrance. It’s a clear statement of intent from the M&S merchandisers, who’ve cleverly shifted their top-selling prepared meals to the back of the store, forcing customers to walk through the wine section en route.

This, combined with a mini-enomatic station and easy-to-understand POS (see below), makes this one of the most dynamic BWS sections we’ve seen in recent years. It could be even better if we imagined the below in-store signage reconfigured to help customers make the most environmentally friendly choice when they choose a bottle to go with supper.

Ultimately, the store is a lot of fun. The way it challenges layout preconceptions is very exciting, and we look forward to seeing their BWS sales figures compared against a standard M&S food store format.