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An Aldi experience

McGraths Hill

On the June long weekend I ventured out to McGraths Hill, Sydney to poke around the new format Aldi.

On the way, I visited ‘current format’ Aldi stores at both Gladesville and Rouse Hill for comparison.

Like the Rouse Hill store, the Aldi at McGraths Hill is freestanding. From the outside it looks rather like a large shed, with a ramp. Trolleys are located in neat rows at the entrance along with instructions for both coin and token operateduse.

I did wonder about the token system, and if shoppers would go inside to wait in queue at register to get a token to then come back outside to get the trolley … felt like making it a bit hard, although I appreciate tokens are an alternative for those who worry about not getting their coin back. Would be interested to see the splits of coin versus token use.

  • On entering

In any case, once inside the difference from other Aldi stores is immediately obvious. For a start, you enter through fresh, which runs the entire aisle, rather than through biscuits and confectionery then dry goods as with other stores.

High mirrored ceilings add to the sense of both space and stock. A big sign just inside the entrance talks about Aldi’s involvement with the Barnardos charity.

This had flowers beneath it and reminded me a bit of the smaller format Woolworths stores such as Erskineville, but without the Woolworths means of donating individually yourself and selecting from the nominated charities that to which you choose to donate. (An idea borrowed from Grill’d, as I understand it).

Fresh taken from entry
McGraths Hill

 The other thing that hits you at the store entrance is the liquor section, which is lit and multiple faces the few SKUs it stocks.

Hanging department signs for the liquor section are visible from the other side of the section near the checkout, but although the signs specify beer, wine, and spirits they don’t necessarily correspond to the product directly beneath them.

Rather, they serve the purpose of being a department level sign to navigate to the alcohol, rather than within it.

More on this slightly confusing signage architecture in a minute.

Alcohol 2
McGraths Hill
  • Around the store

The McGraths Hill store has a similar layout to other Aldi stores, with the ‘special buys’ displays down the middle of the store. It has conventional straight aisles and square turns at aisle ends, no curved rat runs.

It’s a clean store, with no offlocation displays and on the day I visited no stock fill on floor, accentuating the wide aisles.

The stock on shelf is much neater than a conventional Aldi, and although the McGraths store felt around the same size as Rouse Hill it actually looked like fewer SKUs, potentially due to both the tidiness and the aisle widths.

Some points of interest in individual categories:

  • Shelf lighting in the health and beauty aisle is more obvious in this store than in older format Aldis and more consistently used across the whole aisle
  • Whole gondola end of Aldi’s Lacura cosmetics and skincare brand (although there were some stray Napro and Nivea product trays in it)
  • Two ‘storey’ freezers, with doors both labelled with their product category and pricing tickets below the products
  • The usual entire gondola end of Expressi coffee capsules near the front of store. Small wonder Aldi is one of the dominant players in coffee capsules in Australia.
HealthBeautyAisle with lights
McGraths Hill
  • Price ticketing:

Finally an Aldi store where the standard Coles, Woolworths, and IGA convention of putting pricing tickets below the products is consistently adhered to.

This makes a real difference, both visually and in practice. I can’t be the only one who in the past has been ‘charged more’ at the Aldi checkout than I was expecting, because I’ve read the price ticket below the product rather than the one above it.

In the McGraths Hill store price tickets are always below the product, as opposed to other Aldi stores which have some above (dry goods) and some below (freezers) which gets confusing.

  • Signage

Aside from the wide aisles and price tickets below products, the biggest improvement in instore navigation are the category headers at the top of the bays, but they’re inconsistently applied.

Some have headers across the top of the bays, and some have large hanging signs but no printed headers. Sometimes the imagery on the category header cards above the shelves was subliminal.

I’m not dumb, but it took me until I was half way around the store to realise that these quasi-branded and messaged signs were actually intended to be category signs for navigation.

And again not consistently … the dairy case hanging signs mirrored the category headers and the products immediately below them, but this wasn’t the case in meat.

DairyCase Headers

The problem here is one of signage architecture. The hanging signs Aldi have installed here are sometimes intended to do two jobs – both department level navigation and then by subcategory with corresponding product directly beneath it (sometimes).

What is required here is two different kinds of signage: one at department level eg meat, alcohol, dry goods – perhaps with some imagery, and another set of different signage at a category and subcategory level (eg in meat it would be pork, beef, lamb, chicken) directly above the bays carrying that product category. Aldi could learn here from what the discount department stores such as Big W, Kmart, and Target do.

Unlike the Rouse Hill store, McGraths Hill had no overhead hanging signs promoting specific products and specials. The only overheads were the navigation signs.

There were also aisle or gondola end signage on some aisles, such as for traceable tuna complete with website url so you could see the exact origins of the tin of tuna you were buying.

Meat with category signs

At exit

  • Five checkouts, with electronic checkout numbers lit up so you can easily see which checkouts are open and which are closed, however, the usual Aldi problem of not enough checkouts and too many customers persisted (this was also the case with Gladesville).
  • Still no music in the store. None of the half dozen Aldi stores I’ve visited in the past month have had music. It’s a bit quiet.
  • The catalogue stand was at the exit not the entry, which felt like a wasted opportunity, although the week’s special buys and specials were posted on the windows at the store entry.


More premium feel than other Aldis, getting to be on par with the majors. Like a Woolworths with less, and cheaper, stock. Simpler to navigate. While it’s still only a shopping trip for the basics as there are obviously way fewer skus than the majors, the experience is much better than in other Aldis.

*Disclaimer: author’s experience not necessarily representative of all stores in the chain, as is based on that store on that day.

Norrelle Goldring  is head of shopper experience and retail performance at global retail research house GfK. Norrelle can be contacted on 0437 335 686 or email

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